Christian History: Access to the Academy?

One of the objections to “providential history” that some of you picked up from the assigned sources is that if Christians claim special insight on the basis of religious revelation, they will no longer be able to participate in academic conversations about the past. Andrew Nieuwsma argued that “using providential history… can discredit what one has to say and take them out of the larger discussion with other historians or turn away a larger audience.” Both Nelson and John noted Prof. Kooistra’s comments about working in fields where Christian scholars are the minority and invoking biblical texts would leave her work discounted.

Similarly, in the video conversation I alluded to the argument of historian George Marsden, who believes that Christian historians ought to “play by the rules” of the secular academy (except where they explicitly contradict Christian belief) in order to participate in scholarly conversations. He found “quite congenial” William James’ metaphor of a pluralistic society being

like a corridor in a hotel. Innumerable chambers open out of it. In one you may find a man writing an atheistic volume; in the next someone on his knees praying for faith and strength; in the third a chemist investigating the body’s properties. In a fourth a system of idealistic metaphysics is being excogitated; in a fifth the impossibility of metaphysics is being shown. But they all own the corridor, and all must pass through it if they want a practicable way of getting into or out of their respective rooms.

Or if you’re a Social Studies Education major, think about this in terms of access to public schools: In order to serve those religiously diverse students, don’t you need to accept limitations on how you present and interpret, say, U.S. or world history?

Do you think this is a strong argument against what Fea defines as “providential history”? How important is it that Christian historians like Dr. Kooistra and myself be taken seriously by fellow scholars? (Or that Christian teachers be able to work in public schools?)

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3 thoughts on “Christian History: Access to the Academy?

  1. I really like the metaphor of a corridor to have academic conversations. I think it represents well a respectful approach to take in creating a dialogue with peers. I especially like the examples used in the metaphor of in one room you find someone with praying while another is writing an atheistic volume. Just like we would not want someone to dismiss our ideas because we may be looking through a providential lens when we do our research we do not want to dismiss someone else’s work because of the views they may hold. I believe an extensions of this is not to overtly imply a christian, feminist, or any polarizing belief into academic research. Believers often find it aversive to read texts completely discredit anything in the realm of miracles and likewise many non-Christians would find it offensive to be reading about a time period and come across a text that supports Cromwall’s belief that is was divine authority spurred his assaults.

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    • Collin, I really liked how addressed how we should try not to superimpose our beliefs on others and into our research when we are taking a part in academics. But my question for in response for that is there a time to bring our beliefs into the academic discussion? I thought James’s metaphor did a excellent job of showing how we interact in a pluralistic society and how we are even stronger because of the diversity of beliefs present. But James’s noted how all have our own rooms attached to the corridor, not that we just pass people who hold different beliefs as we walk through a random corridor. Is there ever a time to open up the doors connecting our rooms to the corridor? Or should we always have that part of our lives always shut away when we interact in academia?

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      • David, I don’t believe we should have our doors slammed shut so to speak but rather our views will influent how we do our research for a specific topic and the result of this would be that as in the case of Dr. Kooistra’s article in the video our views seeping through into our work, unintentionally, but detectable. This creates an environment where more questions can be asked about those aspects of our work without imposing our beliefs on those who would wish otherwise. Essentially we engage with academia on their terms in the corridor, but we leave our door open and welcoming to all those who would wish to venture in to learn more. We provide opportunities for a deeper, more personal discussion, but there is a disconnect between that conversation and our academic one.

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