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At the end of his 1994 book, The Soul of the American University, George Marsden advanced a modest proposal for an enhanced role for religious faith in today's scholarship. This "unscientific postscript" helped spark a heated debate that spilled out of the pages of academic journals and The Chronicle of Higher Education into mainstream media such as The New York Times, and At the end of his 1994 book, The Soul of the American University, George Marsden advanced a modest proposal for an enhanced role for religious faith in today's scholarship. This "unscientific postscript" helped spark a heated debate that spilled out of the pages of academic journals and The Chronicle of Higher Education into mainstream media such as The New York Times, and marked Marsden as one of the leading participants in the debates concerning religion and public life. Marsden now gives his proposal a fuller treatment in The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, a thoughtful and thought-provoking book on the relationship of religious faith and intellectual scholarship. More than a response to Marsden's critics, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship takes the next step towards demonstrating what the ancient relationship of faith and learning might mean for the academy today. Marsden argues forcefully that mainstream American higher education needs to be more open to explicit expressions of faith and to accept what faith means in an intellectual context. While other defining elements of a scholar's identity, such as race or gender, are routinely taken into consideration and welcomed as providing new perspectives, Marsden points out, the perspective of the believing Christian is dismissed as irrelevant or, worse, antithetical to the scholarly enterprise. Marsden begins by examining why Christian perspectives are not welcome in the academy. He rebuts the various arguments commonly given for excluding religious viewpoints, such as the argument that faith is insufficiently empirical for scholarly pursuits (although the idea of complete scientific objectivity is considered naive in most fields today), the fear that traditional Christianity will reassert its historical role as oppressor of divergent views, and the received dogma of the separation of church and state, which stretches far beyond the actual law in the popular imagination. Marsden insists that scholars have both a religious and an intellectual obligation not to leave their deeply held religious beliefs at the gate of the academy. Such beliefs, he contends, can make a significant difference in scholarship, in campus life, and in countless other ways. Perhaps most importantly, Christian scholars have both the responsibility and the intellectual ammunition to argue against some of the prevailing ideologies held uncritically by many in the academy, such as naturalistic reductionism or unthinking moral relativism. Contemporary university culture is hollow at its core, Marsden writes. Not only does it lack a spiritual center, but it is without any real alternative. He argues that a religiously diverse culture will be an intellectually richer one, and it is time that scholars and institutions who take the intellectual dimensions of their faith seriously become active participants in the highest level of academic discourse. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with this conclusion, Marsden's thoughtful, well-argued book is necessary reading for all sides of the debate on religion's role in education and culture.


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At the end of his 1994 book, The Soul of the American University, George Marsden advanced a modest proposal for an enhanced role for religious faith in today's scholarship. This "unscientific postscript" helped spark a heated debate that spilled out of the pages of academic journals and The Chronicle of Higher Education into mainstream media such as The New York Times, and At the end of his 1994 book, The Soul of the American University, George Marsden advanced a modest proposal for an enhanced role for religious faith in today's scholarship. This "unscientific postscript" helped spark a heated debate that spilled out of the pages of academic journals and The Chronicle of Higher Education into mainstream media such as The New York Times, and marked Marsden as one of the leading participants in the debates concerning religion and public life. Marsden now gives his proposal a fuller treatment in The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, a thoughtful and thought-provoking book on the relationship of religious faith and intellectual scholarship. More than a response to Marsden's critics, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship takes the next step towards demonstrating what the ancient relationship of faith and learning might mean for the academy today. Marsden argues forcefully that mainstream American higher education needs to be more open to explicit expressions of faith and to accept what faith means in an intellectual context. While other defining elements of a scholar's identity, such as race or gender, are routinely taken into consideration and welcomed as providing new perspectives, Marsden points out, the perspective of the believing Christian is dismissed as irrelevant or, worse, antithetical to the scholarly enterprise. Marsden begins by examining why Christian perspectives are not welcome in the academy. He rebuts the various arguments commonly given for excluding religious viewpoints, such as the argument that faith is insufficiently empirical for scholarly pursuits (although the idea of complete scientific objectivity is considered naive in most fields today), the fear that traditional Christianity will reassert its historical role as oppressor of divergent views, and the received dogma of the separation of church and state, which stretches far beyond the actual law in the popular imagination. Marsden insists that scholars have both a religious and an intellectual obligation not to leave their deeply held religious beliefs at the gate of the academy. Such beliefs, he contends, can make a significant difference in scholarship, in campus life, and in countless other ways. Perhaps most importantly, Christian scholars have both the responsibility and the intellectual ammunition to argue against some of the prevailing ideologies held uncritically by many in the academy, such as naturalistic reductionism or unthinking moral relativism. Contemporary university culture is hollow at its core, Marsden writes. Not only does it lack a spiritual center, but it is without any real alternative. He argues that a religiously diverse culture will be an intellectually richer one, and it is time that scholars and institutions who take the intellectual dimensions of their faith seriously become active participants in the highest level of academic discourse. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with this conclusion, Marsden's thoughtful, well-argued book is necessary reading for all sides of the debate on religion's role in education and culture.

30 review for The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    Instead of “Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship,” we can name it the “Unstable idea of a halfway-covenant going by the name of Christian scholarship.” A key argument: Here is the problem. Secularists object to Christians in the academy because the latter claim access to knowledge (special revelation) that others do not have, so they can’t do real science. Marsden counters that Christian beliefs function as “background beliefs.” They are not used as evidence for one’s views. Christians would Instead of “Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship,” we can name it the “Unstable idea of a halfway-covenant going by the name of Christian scholarship.” A key argument: Here is the problem. Secularists object to Christians in the academy because the latter claim access to knowledge (special revelation) that others do not have, so they can’t do real science. Marsden counters that Christian beliefs function as “background beliefs.” They are not used as evidence for one’s views. Christians would look to other beliefs “that we share with persons from differing ideological camps so that we could agree on common grounds” (50). So what is the point of even having religious beliefs in the academy? They function as “control beliefs” (ala Wolterstorff) which filter which beliefs we are allowed to entertain. Marsden then borrows an idea from Newman, which was later echoed by Dooyeweerd: the tendency in the modern academy is for each discipline to absolutize its own claims at the expense of each other. What the disciplines used to do to Christianity they now do to each other. The solution is to see the disciplines as integrally connected. This, of course, is a specifically theological claim. A Concluding Analysis The book is refreshing and in many ways nostalgic for me as a reader. I cut my teeth on Marsden when I was in college, especially as I dealt with the pressure from covenant-breakers (at an ostensibly Christian college, no less). There are a few fine chapters and an interesting appendix. Still, I think Marsden either doesn’t see (or more likely couldn’t imagine, as this book was written decades ago) the true nature of the Left towards Christians in the public sphere. One good Christian argument for Christians in the Academy is that Christians can account for the unity and stability of the “self.” Postmodernism has denied the reality of the unified self. This allows Facebook (and the state of California) to believe in 58 genders. Strangely enough, it is these people who accuse Christians of rejecting science! I return to my opening sentence: the book is a halfway covenant with the secular academy. It wants a place at the table. I’m not sure why he thinks secularists will play along. Which is why I think the whole idea is unstable. Mind you, I believe Christians should be in the academy. But we are living in what Van Til called the “later time of common grace.” The lines are getting sharper and the corners more hard-edged (to quote CS Lewis). Neither side is going to rest content with compromise.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Marsden presents a model for the Christian in the academy that is hard to argue with. He doesn't want a dominant Christian worldview -- just equal face-time. If there are feminist and Marxist scholars, why can't there be respected Christian scholars? He follows somewhat of an Augustinian approach -- play by the rules of man until they interfere with your primary allegiance to God. Definitely worthwhile. Marsden presents a model for the Christian in the academy that is hard to argue with. He doesn't want a dominant Christian worldview -- just equal face-time. If there are feminist and Marxist scholars, why can't there be respected Christian scholars? He follows somewhat of an Augustinian approach -- play by the rules of man until they interfere with your primary allegiance to God. Definitely worthwhile.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David J. Harris

    Thought-provoking.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rod Zinkel

    Marsden, an historian, calls for re-establishing a voice for Christian scholarship in a pluralistic academic world. Without the threat of dominance the Christian perspective should be considered beside the Marxist, feminist, gay, liberal, conservative political perspectives. This is also a call to Christians to accept the academic world as pluralistic, and to respect the other perspectives and address their issues. The outrageous idea of Christian scholarship has faced criticism from academics, Marsden, an historian, calls for re-establishing a voice for Christian scholarship in a pluralistic academic world. Without the threat of dominance the Christian perspective should be considered beside the Marxist, feminist, gay, liberal, conservative political perspectives. This is also a call to Christians to accept the academic world as pluralistic, and to respect the other perspectives and address their issues. The outrageous idea of Christian scholarship has faced criticism from academics, usually based on political inferences. Evangelicals have criticized it as compromising the faith. Both groups have shown “imperialistic” potential – proselytizing in the classroom. Marsden would avoid this as it is against the rules of scholarship, which emphasizes technical expertise. The expectation that educators should keep any religious beliefs private, however essential they are to their world view, or to excellence in scholarship itself, is a sort of selective repression, as other philosophies are freely debated in fields other than philosophy. The Enlightenment ideal of objectivity is shown to be impracticable as even the ideal requires certain presuppositions. This being the case the Christian scholar should be allowed to present a perspective that addresses many important questions in various fields. Marsden includes a list of Christian scholars in various fields so the reader may further research their works (from the early 90’s). The book is small, but small print and substantial writing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary Sue

    Marsden takes a lot of care in delineating his "outrageous idea" with an attractive yoking of the best of Christianity and scholarship. He starts by offering a charitable but not uncritical explanation of Christianity's place in the university today and acknowledging reasonable fears about what should happen were we to give Christianity a more prevalent standing in the university. But he then takes equal care to reject gently the secular narrative of Christian scholarship and follow up with an e Marsden takes a lot of care in delineating his "outrageous idea" with an attractive yoking of the best of Christianity and scholarship. He starts by offering a charitable but not uncritical explanation of Christianity's place in the university today and acknowledging reasonable fears about what should happen were we to give Christianity a more prevalent standing in the university. But he then takes equal care to reject gently the secular narrative of Christian scholarship and follow up with an exploration of Christian background ideals and how, properly used and understood, can open up opportunities for new scholarly insights. I'd kind of like to outline this book and then expand on it. It's a slim little book that offers a lot of food for thought.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Harriette

    This book is worth reading for Christians in academics. Even though it was written before the turn of the 21st century, its description of faith being limited to one's private life in the West remains accurate. He explores what it could mean for Christians to be more open and reflective about how their faith affects their research, study, discipline and teaching. More concrete examples throughout would have been helpful rather than chunking them in the appendix. This book is worth reading for Christians in academics. Even though it was written before the turn of the 21st century, its description of faith being limited to one's private life in the West remains accurate. He explores what it could mean for Christians to be more open and reflective about how their faith affects their research, study, discipline and teaching. More concrete examples throughout would have been helpful rather than chunking them in the appendix.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Zonnefeld

    This book made me think a lot about what Christian Scholarship could and should look like in this changing world. I was disappointed at times when Marsden goes back and forth and doesn’t seem to have a set stance. I think that is what he wants though, for the reader to think and come up with their own stance. With the book being written in 1997, I wonder how it would be different if Marsden wrote it today.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Molly Lackey

    Did not finish. I think Marsden has some good points but ultimately I am not convinced that he fully established the importance and uniqueness of a Christian in academia, although I suspect that is perhaps because we may disagree on the importance and uniqueness of a Christian, period.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Sauskojus

    A really helpful perspective that doesn't become partisan in its definition of Christianity or scholarship. It definitely shows its age a bit though... A really helpful perspective that doesn't become partisan in its definition of Christianity or scholarship. It definitely shows its age a bit though...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tabin Lyatosh

    It's a great book on Christian Scholarship It's a great book on Christian Scholarship

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    George M. Marsden's The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship: It is clearly and concisely written, all in all, a cogent and coherent argument developed by a Christian academician/scholar calling upon those of us (educators, scholars, teachers, and writers) concerned with the connections between faith and first-rate, top-notch research/scholarship amid/in the throng of the predominant naturalistic and materialistic worldview and unexamined first principles/presuppositions of academia as well George M. Marsden's The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship: It is clearly and concisely written, all in all, a cogent and coherent argument developed by a Christian academician/scholar calling upon those of us (educators, scholars, teachers, and writers) concerned with the connections between faith and first-rate, top-notch research/scholarship amid/in the throng of the predominant naturalistic and materialistic worldview and unexamined first principles/presuppositions of academia as well as clearing up the usual suspects, those mendacious and specious lines of academic protests by the secular version of the current ruling scholarly "moral majority' to the contrary. Indeed, distinctive Christian scholarship, Marsden contends, has something real and relevant and revitalizing to say, much to offer to academic/scholarly research in all disciplines and spheres of its influence, and within academic circles and communities and universities across America, Christian scholarship should be accepted and welcomed (as well as cultivated and respected) rather than marginalized and ostracized. In sum, the book is a primer on the background, breakdown, definition, and delineation/explication of the problem and proposes a suggestive start to a possible solution, if not a spur toward lovely good deeds and scholarly excellence directly informed by Christian faith (and its central tenets of creation, incarnation, and transformation).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Bray

    Overall it was alright, it's goal was to find ways to integrate Christian thought into modern day academia. The Intro was sort of repetitive as Marseden continuously mentioned our lack to empirically measure God and that Christians have a bad rep. Throughout the rest of the book he tends to argue for the case of Christianity in general using the origins of Morality and our spiritual sixth sense. To me he goes very little into actually applying Christian thought into scholarship. The only real wa Overall it was alright, it's goal was to find ways to integrate Christian thought into modern day academia. The Intro was sort of repetitive as Marseden continuously mentioned our lack to empirically measure God and that Christians have a bad rep. Throughout the rest of the book he tends to argue for the case of Christianity in general using the origins of Morality and our spiritual sixth sense. To me he goes very little into actually applying Christian thought into scholarship. The only real ways he recommends is that the ideals could be used to motivate certain areas of study (such as morality) and that we overall need to take a humble view of knowledge as we are still very limited to the knowledge of all things spiritual. It was an interesting read and it definitely got me thinking about metaphysical things but I don't think it answered its overall question.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Red

    In this book, the American academic ethos is best described as disestablishmentarianistic. Although the WASP goal of a common intellectual platform free from the affairs of state was the driving force that setup the majority of our universities in this country, the academy has largely rejected the former ideals which laid the foundation. What has substituted is an acceptance of a materialistic naturalism that permeates the research institutions and serves as a constraining force towards academic In this book, the American academic ethos is best described as disestablishmentarianistic. Although the WASP goal of a common intellectual platform free from the affairs of state was the driving force that setup the majority of our universities in this country, the academy has largely rejected the former ideals which laid the foundation. What has substituted is an acceptance of a materialistic naturalism that permeates the research institutions and serves as a constraining force towards academic ideal. Thus, in post-modernity the disestablished have become the established creating a paradox. I would recommend this book to individuals who are in the higher academic sphere, professor or student, regardless of your faith background.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Grosh IV

    An on-going encouragement and inspiration to the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). Mark Noll's Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is an important next step in this discussion. Some personal notes from a presentation by Marsden on his book posted at http://groshlink.net/archives/2006/02... ... " Some ESN blog book discussion begins at http://blog.emergingscholars.org/tag/.... An on-going encouragement and inspiration to the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). Mark Noll's Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is an important next step in this discussion. Some personal notes from a presentation by Marsden on his book posted at http://groshlink.net/archives/2006/02... ... " Some ESN blog book discussion begins at http://blog.emergingscholars.org/tag/....

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I was a little apprehensive when I first picked this book up because of the title. It wasn't long before I was fascinated by every word! I was reading it for my philosophy class and had to tell the professor that my review would be late because I had to think through different ideas that came to me as I read! Can scholarship be specifically "Christian"? Should Christians interact (or be allowed to interact) with mainstream academia and should they share their theological perspectives on topics, I was a little apprehensive when I first picked this book up because of the title. It wasn't long before I was fascinated by every word! I was reading it for my philosophy class and had to tell the professor that my review would be late because I had to think through different ideas that came to me as I read! Can scholarship be specifically "Christian"? Should Christians interact (or be allowed to interact) with mainstream academia and should they share their theological perspectives on topics, or should they follow the cultural rules that say that good scholars believe (or pretend to) that there is no God? Marsden addresses these questions and more in this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    None

  17. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    thought-provoking writing about why the marginalization of Christian scholarship endangers the integrity of education at large

  18. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    great primer for discussion group on campus

  19. 5 out of 5

    Reader2007

    Love this!!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    An important contribution to the debate of what role should religious-informed perspectives play in the post-modern university.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  22. 5 out of 5

    Peter Knechtle

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jared

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  26. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Mackie

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Rainey

  28. 4 out of 5

    Youngjin Yoo

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hunter Baker

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cassie

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