As we approach the start of a new academic year, I’ve returned to the Maritimes after a summer at home in North Vancouver to take up my duties again at Crandall University. In two weeks I’ll mark the one-year anniversary of my installation in the new Samuel J. Mikolaski Chair of Religious Studies, so perhaps some will be interested in the address I gave on that occasion:
Sanctifying Culture, Cultivating Saints
What am I doing here?
What are we doing here?
As we begin a new academic year, and as many of us begin our time at Crandall University, we might take a few moments to reorient ourselves and refocus our attention on what truly matters in the enterprise of a Christian university.
A university clearly has something to do with culture—with studying culture, passing culture along, and even contributing something to culture. And a Christian institution obviously has something to do with the worship and service of Jesus Christ.
At what more precisely, however, ought we to be aiming as we begin again the truly massive expenditure of hours and words and images and assignments and relationships and experiences that constitute university life?
Columnist Mark Steyn has warned his fellow conservatives about how their liberal counterparts have more fully grasped the realities of social change: “Conservatives aim to elect politicians every few years while liberals aim to shift the culture day by day by day.”
Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, more generally advises those who wish to see society embrace their chief concern not to force something onto other people’s agenda, but to make that concern—currently unthinkable—to be merely plausible. From there, he said, people can opt for it without compulsion…and in a large and diverse society, likely lots of people will.
Compare, alas, these prudent observations with the typical “all-or-nothing” approach of the culture wars fought by too many Christians south of our border. Even sociologist James Davison Hunter, who helped popularize the very phase “culture wars,” has since pulled back into recommending a kind of Stanley Hauerwasian “faithful presence”—albeit without the characteristic Hauerwasian prophetic confrontation.
Meanwhile, far too much discourse in American public life today, even among the sophisticated, seems aimed at rallying the troops and impressing the choirs, rather than actually changing anyone’s mind.