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Welcome to Exiles from Eden

Posted by Joe Creech

Welcome to our new blog, Exiles from Eden, which is sponsored by the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts (LFP). As we note in our about page, Exiles from Eden takes its name from the book of that same title published in 1993 by Mark Schwehn, founder and current Project Director of the LFP. In that book, Schwehn suggests that church-related colleges and universities offer a unique opportunity to be creative places of interaction among the values and challenges connected to teaching and scholarship in modern colleges and universities. He, and we, suggest that the pursuit of what matters most to undergraduates, graduates, and those who work in higher learning (church-related or not) is enriched by engaging ideas and practices arising from the Christian tradition. We hope that this blog will be a forum for such engagement.

The title of that work, Exiles from Eden, is especially rich. First, it marked an event from Schwehn’s own life–his move from the University of Chicago to Valparaiso University–that captures an often unspoken idea academics use to frame their work and their lives. That idea, which is certainly rooted in reality, is this: the R1 universities like Chicago that most shape the ideals and professional practices of academics in their graduate education occupy the place of “Eden,” while the places most academics actually find themselves working occupy a sort of “exile” from that ideal. Most academics thus exist in a world in which “their work”–meaning research and other tasks that conform to the values instilled by their disciplinary affiliations and graduate education–is thwarted by local demands of service and teaching, tasks generally not high in the hierarchy of values instilled by graduate education but which are frequently valued by faculty members themselves (teaching especially; see a report on the latest HERI faculty survey at The Chronicle). With this idea in mind, we hope part of the conversation on this blog will involve the actual work we do–how we nurture meaningful careers in which we put to great use the disciplinary training we have received as professionals in the academy and at the same time meet our desires and responsibilities to teach and serve at our local institutions.

Another dimension of the title, Exiles from Eden, is that Valparaiso University is also a church-related (Lutheran) institution. Exiles appeared on the heels of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990), books like James Burtchaell’s ominously titled The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches (1998), and just prior to George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (1994). In other words, it appeared when the ground underneath church-related higher education was shifting, and the consequences of that shift were as yet unclear. Since that time, church-related institutions, religious practice on campuses, and religion as a field of study have, in the words of one set of authors, made a “comeback”. Prompted by funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. and The Pew Charitable Trusts and facilitated by groups like the LFP, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Collegium, and others, church-related institutions are engaged in a rich conversation about the shape and strength of their individual and, to some extent, collective mission as institutions forwarding certain religious ideas and practices together with the aims of higher learning. Moreover, the conversation fostered by such organizations has much to offer the Post-9/11 religious cultures of our campuses (secular or religious) and can provide interesting resources for answering such vexing questions as the role of values in the classroom (see, for example, Mark W. Roche, “Should Faculty Members Teach Virtues and Values?:  That is the Wrong Question,” in Liberal Education, 95, No. 3: 32-37, Summer 2009). We hope that this blog will extend that conversation by connecting voices and engaging the academy at large, and we hope you will follow us and join in.

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