The Influence of Religion on American Higher Education .. By: Mahmoud Osman Rizig
عنوان البريد الإلكتروني هذا محمي من روبوتات السبام. يجب عليك تفعيل الجافاسكربت لرؤيته.
Religion in higher education is a very hot subject in the past and in the present and it will continue in the future. Therefore it is worthy enough to be researched. As we see in our daily lives, religion and religious institutions have a huge influence on societyboth in Europe and the United States. Even when we look back into history, we can see that American colonies were settled by people who were deeply religious. These colonial religious beliefs and practices became a legacy for the American generations passing them on from one generation to the next,remaining intact and influential till the present time in spite of the separation of church and state decree. In fact, once a new student is accepted in college and arrives to the campus, he or she will clearly see religious factors playing some roles in the campus. He or she can see that religious students devote time and energy to a variety of pro-social and intellectual activities in the campus. Not only that, but religious orientation can also impact the student’s choice when it becomes time for them to major in a subject and select their courses. Recognizing this reality that all campuses are affected by religious factors,there are many questions that arise when we discuss the influence of religious institutions on higher education. I will discuss and further elaborate on these following questions: How does spirituality affect the educational initiatives such as student values and ethical development? Experiential education? Health and wellness?and community service? Should the higher education institutions add some spiritual components to our educational programs? And how we do that?How do we approach the concerns of those who feel that spirituality is too subjective to be of value in the experimental world of academia?How do we approach and dialogue with those who are afraid that religion may attempt to influence the curriculum to support its religious views and consequently affect academic freedom? This paper will answer all of those questions in a scholarly manner that will help us measure the depth of the influence, and know exactly to what extentdo American religious beliefs and institutions played a role in developing higher education in the past and the present. This historical knowledge, in addition to some present factors will enable us to predict the relation between higher education and religion in the future. As Professor Arthur Holmes (1987) noted “the American higher education was the child of religion, and the history both of church denominations and the westward expansion can be traced through the history of America’s colleges and universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Colombia – to name but few- began this way, and the list of those established prior to the Civil War includes forty nine founded by Presbyterians, thirty-four by Methodists, twenty-five by Baptists, and twenty-one by Congregationalists” (p. 9). After this statement we are in integrity compelled here to face a basic question. Why should a Christian college exist? The answer to this question is that Christian leaders want to see the Christian values have a presence in the academic field. But why do leaders of the Christian faith want to have this presence and what is so distinctive about it? According to Professor Holmes, “the Christian College does not exist only to offer biblical and theological studies. Rather the Christian college is distinctive in that the Christian faith can touch the entire range of life and learning to which a liberal education exposes students” (p. 45). William (2006) affirmed the same thing saying that “the old-time college leaders sought to create an environment in which the Christian faith and Christian morality influenced every aspect of the college experience. Often founders located their institutions in remote rural places in an effort to protect the students from undesirable recreational centers” (p. 61). Actually, there were several factors contributing to this great boom in college founding at that time. One major stimulus was the religious zeal stemming from the second Great Awakening, “a major factor in the rapid growth of higher education was that the two denominations that experienced the greatest increase in membership because of the Awakening, the Methodist and the Baptists, at the same time came to accept the idea that a trained mind might help rather than hinder a minister’s effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel” (p. 58). Now we can understand why religion occupied a central but confined place in most colonial colleges. That is mainly due to the fact that “the colonies were a Christian world, and more accurately a Protestant world” (Thelin, 2011, p. 13). These religious colonies wanted to see their young men taking their studies and religion seriously. The Protestant society is a vibrant society that does not allow things to stay the way they used to be. Its religious views and dominance pushed forward some elements into society during the nineteenth century to march towards secularism. “Gradually, beginning in the late nineteenth century, America higher education in general changed its spiritual direction to the point that by the 1980s it exerted a primarily negative affect upon the spiritual development of its students” (Ringenberg, 2006, p. 113). The movement of secularization did not of course proceed in a uniform rate in all higher education institutions, yet the major state universities and a limited number of elite private institutions that rushed to accept the evolutionary theory led the secularization movement in the late nineteenth century. Those major universities were followed by the rest of the state and private universities from the second line (pp. 114-119). The essence of this movement was also rooted in the school of philosophy which opposes the direct intervene of the Divine Creator in our human affairs. The philosophers and thinkers of that school of thought started to develop new conclusions about how to search for the truth in an effective way. “A system of thought known as logical positivism began to gain acceptance. Applied first the natural sciences, logical positivism accepted as valid only those things which could be verified by the scientific method.” (p. 115-116) The movement towards logical positivism has created a pattern in recent history in which many U.S. institutions of higher education have tended to avoid issues of religion on campus by maintaining a so called “secular atmosphere”. This secular atmosphere according to Ringenberghas produced the following results: 1- The public statement about the Christian nature of the institution begin to include equivocal rather than explicit phrases; these statements often describe Christian goals in sociological but not theological terms. 2- The faculty hiring policy begins to place a reduced emphasis upon the importance og the scholar being a committed Christian, and subsequently fewer professors seek to relate their academic disciplines to the Christian faith. 3- The importance of biblical and the Christian religion in the general education curriculum declines. 4- The previously strong official institutional support given to religious activities in general and the chapel service in particular declines. 5- The institution begins to reduce and then perhaps drop its church affiliation or, if it be an independent institution, it tends to reduce its interest in identifying with interdenominational and parachurch organizations. 6- Budget decisions begin to reflect a reduced emphasis upon the essential nature of Christian programs. 7- An increasing number of students and faculty members join the college community in spite of rather than because of the remaining Christian influences, and the deeply committed Christian students begin to feel lonely.(pp. 120-121) But this loneliness and those marks created a counter movement against secularism in higher education. According to Mooney (2005) this movement claims that “several studies have shown that religious students do better on critical indicators of academic success (as cited in Sherkat, 2007). The students do better because participation and personal religiosity can help lower rates of substance abuse, and limit activities that undermine college careers according to Regnerus who noted that alcohol and substance abuse are among the most important factors predicting negative educational outcomes (as cited inSherkat, 2007). On such positive claims and views a counter movement was established. But Religious fundamentalism emerged as an ugly side of this movement and unfortunately spread among students from all types of religious traditions. According to Hood, Hill and William (2005) “fundamentalism is a religious orientation of individuals or groups that values sources of meaning derived from the sacred texts of a religious tradition” (as cited in Sherkat, 2007). One reaction against secularism in higher education is the mandated religious participation rule enforced by Catholic colleges in which students began making Student Christian Organizations. “Now, college religious institutions are more diverse, more sectarian in affiliation, more fundamentalist in orientation, and are more often led by students and outside ministries like the Campus Crusade for Christ.” (Sherkat, 2007). Diana Chapman Walsh, the president of Wellesley College explained at one of the national gatherings the tasks of the counter movement to secularism by stating that “our task together is to envision a whole new place, a whole new space and role for spirituality in higher education, not as an isolated enterprise on the margins of the academy, nor as a new form of institutional social control, but as an essential element of the larger task of reorienting our institutions of higher learning to respond more adequately to the challenges the world presents us now: challenges to our teaching, to our learning, to our leading, to our lives” (as cited in Mohler, 2014). Some of these challenges that face the Christian society in the eyes of its leaders will lead to more religious and spiritual activities in university campuses. Those challenges are the drugs, alcohol consummation, unlawful or forbidden sexuality, weak family values, individualism and selfishness. All these and many others constitute a real challenge to the Christian society. One way to solve these problem is to instill religious values in the hearts of students while they are young. Other challenge for the Christian faith itself comes from other ideologies and religions. Islam constitutes a major challenge to Christianity because of its fast spread among the American and specially the African American community. Edgerly and Ellis (2014)reported that Muslims make up about 6% of the population in the United States now and the majority of conversions to Islam occurring within the African-American community. They alsoexpressed their worries very frankly saying that“for Christians, regardless of nationality, this is the great challenge that should be our urgent concern. Our concern is not mainly political, but theological and spiritual. And, all things considered, Islam almost surely represents the greatest challenge to Christian evangelism of our times”. In addition to all these challenges, universities will always be in need for money and donations. Therefore, universities and colleges will need to establish good relationship with religious institutes because “philanthropy was closely tied to religion-a partnership of which colleges were major beneficiaries” (Thelin, p. 15). Therefore, universities need to go where the money is and those who have the money want to have a presence in the universities. In conclusion, the influence of religion on higher education in the United States of America is very clear to the eyes. Most of the early universities are considered fruits of this influence. Philanthropy was tied to religion, curriculum was connected to religion, and even the staff was selected from those who had religious orientations. When the secularism movement came and challenged religious teachings and goals, religion did not give up the fight but rather kept fighting to get its feet back on the ground of higher education. In this paper I listed a number of factors that may drive religious movements to speed up their pace to step into the campus. I believe that religious values, morals and teachings will find their ways to the campus sooner or later. But those religious values and teachings will not repeat the mistakes of the past and challenge the reasoning and the scientific thinking anymore. This way will create a harmony between the two and finally a new order in the higher education may emerge from this fusion. This third way will make the society live in peace and in harmony and will make the universities benefit from the financial support that they will definitely get from various religious institutes such as churches.
References Edgerly, Adam and Ellis, Carl. Emergence of Islam in the African-American Community. Retrieved April 12, 2014, fromhttp://www.answering-islam.org/ReachOut/emergence.html Holmes, Arthur F. (1987).The Idea of Christian College. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Mohler, Albert. (2014). the challenge of Islam: A Christian perspective. Retrieved from http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/al-mohler/the-challenge-of-islam-a-christian-perspective-11602059.html Ringenberg, William C. (2006). Christian College: A History of Protestant Higher Education in America. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Sherkat, Darren E. (2007).Religion and higher education: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Retrieved from http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Sherkat.pdf Thelin, J. (2011). A history of American higher education. (2nd Ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press