Very observant piece by Wheaton Prof, Timothy Larsen. He first discusses a potential grad student coming from a secular institution. Young man received an F on a paper in which he used the Bible as support of his opinion of traditional marriage. I want to be cautious here. I haven’t seen the paper. There are two thoughts that come to mind though:
1) I cannot leave who I am as a Christian at home. It permeates who I am. I have to be as consistent as possible with that philosophy, lifestyle, world view.
2) However, in an academic setting, sources abound. In a secular degree, care should be taken to exhibit a wide variety of sources.
I did not get the impression this was done with this young man. Larsen concedes the paper was weak, but not F weak.
In another case with this student:
When he asked for a reason why yet another grade was so poor he was told that it was inappropriate to quote C. S. Lewis in work for an English class because he was “a pastor.”
Excuse me? To say that C.S. Lewis is inappropriate to quote is bewildering. Now the quote he used may have been inappropriate for the context. That I could buy.
I will readily admit that living in the deep south (and having been in several grad programs here) skews what I know. While it is obvious that Christianity offends some greatly, there is perhaps more tolerance in this region. However, I have never written a paper for a secular institution with the Bible as my main (or only) source. And even at Christian institutions, should the Bible be used as the main/only source for an English paper (or science or math or . . . )? Again, I don’t know that is what happened, but while my faith may be strengthened getting a secular degree, that is not the purpose of the degree.
Larsen also talks about his own experience at Yale.
I submitted a proposal for a volume on The Idea of a Christian Society by T. S. Eliot (you remember Eliot — for much of the 20th century he was a prominent pastor).
Suggestion soundly defeated with some quite lengthy verbiage. Now this situation carries more weight for an anti-Christian bias. This was not a paper laced with Christian or biblical anecdotes. This was a suggestion involving a writer that is commonly published and read in English classes all over. In the responses, Christianity was lumped in with the Taliban and the Nicene Creed labeled “offensive nonsense.” Well, those are difficult platforms for further discussion.
Larsen asks these questions which I’ve removed from their paragraph form to highlight them:
Nevertheless, scholars ought to be concerned that Christians often report that the academy is a hostile environment.
- Are academics generally glad that such a perception exists? If not, how might it be dispelled?
- If it is based on genuine experiences, what can be done about a climate that tolerates religious discrimination?
- If the two stories presented here are merely assailable, anecdotal evidence, then why not gather information on this issue more systematically?
- Do academic institutions ever try to discover if their Christian students or scholars experience discrimination?
Good questions. Can we generalize the answers? I suspect that we will find people who are not thoughtful academics saying that they were discriminated against solely because of their Christianity. The questions must surround those that are quality students and researchers. If their work is being discarded because of their Christianity or Christian themes (as was apparently Larsen’s case with the T.S. Eliot suggestion), then that’s a real problem that we need to discuss and address.