Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Winter Reads

Two recent books of special interest for collegiate ministers are No Longer Invisible: Religion in Higher Education and Unscripted: Engaging Life After College.

No Longer Invisible: Religion in Higher Education, By Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen. Oxford University Press . 2012
Douglas “Jake” Jacobsen is Professor of Church History and Theology and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen is Director of Faculty Development and Professor of Psychology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. They current ly co-direct the Religion in the Academy Project, a major research initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment, and are the authors of Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (2004) and The American University in a Postsecular Age (2008). No Longer Invisible continues their investigation of religion in the academy and was written as a result of hundreds of interviews across academe, including a number of chaplains. They attended the 2008 “Varieties of Secular Experience Conference” as well as that year’s ACURA annual conference.

Within the past twenty years or so the visibility of religion in higher education has increased. But this religion is not the same kind of religion which undergirded American college education in previous centuries. Religion on campus today is much more pluralistic. In addition, many faith traditions, as well as deeply held secular beliefs and behaviors, mingle together in the minds of current students. The “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon is characteristic of this aspect of religion. Because the religious – secular boarders are so fuzzy, the academy can no longer think that it can exclude or bracket religion. Religion, then, is not something that an institution adds on, but is already implicit throughout the academy.

The authors believe that if this implicit religion can be thoughtfully explored and made explicit, it can be a source of revitalization of higher education. At each step in their development of the book’s argument, the authors take serious the objections of the faculty members raising in a tradition where knowledge is compartmentalized and, “it has nothing to do with my area of specialization. I don’t address it in class, or
even out of class,” as well as the students who arrive with a history of diversity and relativity and don’t need their world views dismantled, but are already adrift and are looking for some trustworthy place to stand.

Throughout the book the Jacobsens make helpful distinctions and address the sp ect rum of responses to religion in the academy. They offer a framework to help on-campus religious interactions be more effective. They propose three distinct and overlapping ways of talking about and being religious. “Historic Religion” means the traditional, organized aspect religion. "Public religion" is the cultural religion, like ideas, values, and practices of society. "Personal religion" is the individual’s
spiritual life, the “inner life” of students.

Each of these three ways has both a dimension of ideas as well as that of practices, leading to six areas where religion and higher education naturally overlap. The last portion of the book develops each of these six areas and provides “prompts for constructive reflection.” For example, a question from each of the six areas would be:
What do we expect religious literacy to mean as a student outcome?
What are appropriate ways to interact with those of other faiths?
What assumptions and rationalities – secular or religious – shape the way we think?
What values and practices – religious and secular – shape civic engagement?
In what ways are personal convictions related to the teaching and learning process?
How might colleges and universities point students towards lives of meaning and purpose?

A number of examples from different institutions illustrate the range of approaches , but no specific direction is proscribed. Readers are encouraged to think through the six areas in their own specific context.

No Longer Invisible is succinct, accessible, and insightful in its sweep of religion and higher education. Helpful distinctions are made throughout. If there were a Chaplaincy 101 course, this would be a required text. In fact, I will be recommending to future new chaplains that they read this book. It helpfully covers the landscape and would bring the chaplain up to speed in current thought in student development, classroom issues, multifath conversations, service and learning, and vocation.
Different models on how colleges and universities deal with religion are discussed. The scope, involvement, and actions of t he chap lain is different in each of the models. A new chaplain would be wise to understand her or his institution’s predominant model as a prelude to the expectations the institution has of the chaplaincy.

Reading the book together and answering the questions posed would be of benefit to any institution wanting to think through its connection to religion. It could be a powerful tool for religion departments as well as faculty curriculum committees in developing curriculum. Student affairs professionals, reading this book with the chaplain, would be led to all sorts of conversations about co-curricular activities and outcomes. It would fost er helpful discussions with faculty about how this new thinking about religion could enrich their teaching and improve their student’s educational experience. The book would also be a good resource in wrestling through an institution’s church-relatedness.
Read it.

Unscripted: Engaging Life After College by Thomas A. Brown. Parson’s Porch and Company. Cleveland, Tennessee. 2012.

While there are beginning to be a number of books published for the recent college graduate (Life After College, How to Survive the Real World, Twentysomething Manifesto, etc.), there has not been one to specifically address the faith journey of twentysomethings until now.

is written by Tommy Brown, who has been engaged in ministry with young adults thoughout his professional career, and who has been the Presbyterian Campus Minister at Appalachian State University since 2002.

The book’s premise is that the previous generations had a fairly standard plan (life scripts ) to follow after college, but all those plans for this generation are no longer applicable. Life for current college graduates is “unscripted,” and the graduates are left with trying to figure out what they should be doing.
Brown uses an extended study of Acts 1 with the disciples trying to figure out “what next?” to guide the reader though questions about relationships, meaning, and purpose. The chapters are written conversationally, as if a recent graduate was talking with his or her college campus minister. Brown shares many of his experiences as a college graduate from Maryville College in 1984.

This book could be used as a graduation gift, or as a study for a congregation’s post -college emerging adults. While the publisher’s profits are used for social justice outreach, the book’s price of $18.95 could be a deterrence to the intended audience.