Christianity in Exile and Christian Higher Education

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Some disconnected thoughts in search of a thread:

I’ve been reading Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, where he describes the seeds of the terror attacks of 9-11-01.  One of the things he describes, not a central theme but a recurring motif, is the Islamic educational system and how the Islamists–Qutb, al-Zawahiri, bin Laden–understood its role and used it (especially in the case of Qutb, whose calling was educational philosophy) to transform and radicalize.

This got me thinking about the similarities shared by the Islamic approach to education, the Catholic approach to education (at least when it was ascendent), and the approach to Christian higher education in America today.

Islam’s vision for education is inspiring and frustrating.  Inspiring in its understanding of the centrality of education and the centrality of religion to education: faith-centered learning, faith-centered inquiry, at least in some ways uncompartmentalized.  All knowledge, learning, enculturation is/was done in the light of the central truths of Allah, scripture, etc.  (See the parallels with Catholic education in its ascendency.)

In our modern Western system, faith is marginalized or treated with contempt.  Faith is seen as bloodless and powerless.  And the place of faith in education is similarly hollow.  Part of the fault may be pluralism: how can we use faith as the lens for inquiry if we can’t agree on what faith is, or what the tenets of faith should be?  Even in the places where faith IS central to education, we do not have unity on these issues.

Is there a way to do Christ-centered education in a pluralistic world, where religious convictions and particulars are not shared, where they do not dominate the conversation?  Perhaps the Jewish model, the Jewish approach, where the attitude is separatist?  Not education-from-empire, education that begins with the idea of cultural dominance, but education-as-exiles?

Much has been said recently about how Christianity is in exile in the modern world.  Can Christianity be said to be “in exile” in a country so rife with the trappings of Christianity, so “Christ haunted”?  What does it mean to be “in exile”?  Is there a theology of living “in exile”?  How does exile relate to empire?  

That’s my next post, maybe today, maybe tomorrow.

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