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Where are the Christians in Academia?
A Talk between Gabe Lyons and Duane Grobman
The Academy is unique in a lot of ways, both as a place of opportunity and also complexity and challenge for people of faith. I'm here with Duane Grobman, Executive Director of the Mustard Seed Foundation and Director of the Harvey Fellows Program. When you talk to Duane, you realize just how strategically he and some others have been thinking about the role of believers in the academy and the importance of developing great scholars, the importance of thinking long-term, not just short-term, and thinking about, "What does the next 20 to 30 years of philosophy look like in major campuses around the U.S. and the world?"
Duane, tell us about the Harvey Fellows Program.
Sure. The Harvey Fellows Program began in 1992 and it was started, and it's continued to be funded by, the Mustard Seed Foundation. They founded the Fellows Program because they wanted to encourage Christians to innovate their faith with their vocation and also to encourage them to pursue leadership positions in what we call strategic fields where Christians appear to be underrepresented. And so, their hope was that through the program they would encourage students to pursue culturally influential vocations, that they would actually help equip students with tools necessary to lead integrated lives and that they actually help validate exceptional abilities and academic leadership and gifts as gifts from God worthy of cultivation development. Because, often times the church hasn't been terrific at validating individual's abilities in the areas of leadership and academics.
I loved the log-term thinking that obviously has gone into this entire program. Really, this is a pretty strategic attempt to connect with some of the most astute leaders in society for the long-term. Right?
That is correct. To our knowledge, we're the only program of this kind. You hit the nail on the head there, in that, I think one of the reasons is because it is so long-term. We've often said that it's sort of a 20-year experiment, that we won't fully know the effects of the program culturally and its impact for 20 years. And so, there's not a lot of foundations that are willing to invest in that long-term vision. But given, now, that we're in our 16th year, from the fruit that we see and the impact, we find this incredibly encouraging. So we're feeling really confident that it's a worthwhile investment.
Yes—It sounds like it's very worthwhile. Duane, tell us a little bit about you. What drove you into wanting to lead a project like this and why is this so important to you personally?
I got into the leadership program because I received a Harvey Fellowship to receive my doctorate in education from Harvard. It was a profound blessing for me as an individual to receive this fellowship from this foundation and from a collection of individuals. For some reason, in my application, they saw gifts and potential there that they wanted to invest in and that was deeply meaningful. We hold an institute each summer where we bring the fellows together and we talk about issues of integrating faith and vocation and coming to that institute had a great impact on me and my thinking. And so, going back to my university, going back to Harvard and to my work, it just deepened my understanding of vocation and my sense of calling.
And so, as I progressed through my own degree program, which is in education, I already had a strong focus and passion for this field. I really saw the fellowship as a cultivator of hope, as I often call it, that when they approached me a number of years later to direct the program, with a lot of enthusiasm, I said yes, I would love to be able to further the program as well as to work with the Fellows and encouraging them in their own giftings and passions and callings.
That's awesome. One of the things that we talked about a lot with Q is talking about the different sectors of culture. We talk about
arts and entertainment,
the social sector
, but it’s
channel that is really where this project is focused. I know you believe this is probably one of the most strategic places to focus when we're thinking about how the future of culture is shaped. Could you give us an example of how this world of education actually shapes the culture that we all live and breathe within? And what are, maybe, some examples of where the education world ends up impacting the way the rest of us live?
Well, there is an oft-quoted adage that says ideas have consequences, and I think that's really true. As someone who has worked with this program but also views education through a university lens, because that's what I studied, I can think of a couple different examples. For one, the change and shift in people's view of the environment is powerful. How education has been a key in changing people's understanding about the environment and how we're called to care for creation and have a redemptive view of it and that changes our behavior in how we use it, how we live our lives and the choices that we make and how we live together. So the whole sense of the environment, I think, is one where education has had a key role in shaping people's thoughts. But that’s just one example. I mean, I could go on.
And that's what's good. I think we're always craving to understand. I think the environmental discussion is a great one because it has so affected the discussion and the broader conversation and given it the credibility to go with that discussion as to why we should care about creation. James Hunter, who's a great student of culture, talks a lot about the idea of cultural capital. I am curious to ask you, Duane, about this idea of cultural capital. We hear about all kinds of different social capital and real capital. But when you look at cultural capital, it's this idea that, maybe when you have a degree from a certain set of specific schools, that gives you a certain cultural capital and entrance into any environment.
Part of the program you structured is based a little on that idea, isn't it? You want people to get degrees from very specific institutions because those institutions carry a certain level of credibility in our culture today.
Yes, that's right. First, I would say that we believe that God can use anyone from any background from any school context and position them where He wants. But, we also believe that we live in a culture that does operate with what you're talking about—cultural capital—and that degrees from specific schools in specific fields of study open doors. And through those open doors, you have an opportunity to meet with people who you can potentially work with who share similar set of passions and interests and who you can solve problems with.
One of the things that I saw in my own studies and in working with the Harvey Fellows is how the introduction to these people and walking through those doors gives you access to a culture of synergy where you meet with others who can move forward your ideas, and your callings, and your passions. So I affirm what James Hunter has said because I think it is a real thing.
This sounds like a great program. But we would be remiss not to also consider the bias against Christians in academia. I recently published my research in this area in my book "Compromising Scholarship." As a Christian in academia it is my responsiblity to help create a more tolerant environment for Christians. But I hope that programs like these will find ways to support Christians seeking academic positions in ways to deal with that bias until those of us in academia can greatly reduce that bias.
Hi, I am a PhD student in upstate New York. From a school of education and human development perspective, I am curious to find out how you could assist me in addressing the humanist views of social justice. I am very interested in race theory, but am struggling on how to approach it from a Christian world view rather than the common post-modern epistemic discourses I am confronted with in readings and class discussion. Thank you an God bless.
due you how it work
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