What Does a Friendly Atheist Want to Know about Fundamentalist U?

I had a chance to talk with Hemant Mehta, the famous Friendly Atheist. He had great questions to ask about Fundamentalist U.

friendly atheist

FA on FU

For example, Mehta wondered what today’s evangelicals didn’t like to hear about their own collegiate history.

He asked how schools that were dedicated to passing along eternal truths somehow rationalized changing their beliefs. In Mehta’s words, schools essentially had to tell students. “We’re correct NOW, but in the past when we said we were correct we were wrong.” Why would anyone believe such things?

Mehta also wondered how schools can change ONE rule, like racial segregation, without admitting that they might be wrong on everything?

That’s not all. Here are a few other topics Mehta pressed me about:

  • How did Bryan College get away with changing their faculty statement of faith in 2014?
  • Do schools like this “exist in a bubble?” Or do they want to be influential in mainstream culture and politics? How does the history of the CCCU help answer these questions?
  • How have evangelical colleges handled sexual assault and abuse?

It was a real pleasure for me to talk with him. I’ve long been a follower and fan of his blog. Click on over and listen to the whole interview if you’ve got some time to kill.

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Professor Hankins on Fundamentalist U

I’m tickled pink this morning to read a new review of Fundamentalist U from a scholar I have long admired. Barry Hankins of Baylor offered an insightful review today in the pages of Christianity Today.family feud

What did he think? As he explains,

Laats attempts to identify the distinct nature of non-denominational, fundamentalist-evangelical higher education in the 20th century. And he succeeds admirably. . . .

In explaining how this struggle [between fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism] played out, Laats helps us better understand both Christian higher education and the historic relationship between fundamentalism and evangelicalism.

My favorite bit of all?

With fundamentalism subject to such a fluid range of definitions, controversies often centered on the question of authority. In other words, who gets to define fundamentalism for the college? Is it the board, the president, the faculty, or the students (certainly not, unless you ask them)? This was not shared governance but something akin to WrestleMania.

Professor Hankins explores the book’s treatment of issues such as creationism and racism in evangelical higher education and sends us off with a heartening conclusion:

Overall, Fundamentalist U is an exhaustively researched and well-written book, even when it dwells on episodes we might prefer to forget.

The View from Wall Street

Why would Liberty University love President Trump so much? In the Wall Street Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley pulls her answer from the pages of Fundamentalist U. As she puts it,

nondenominational Christian schools like Liberty have often defined themselves less by their religious doctrines than by their position as outsiders.

I wouldn’t say “less,” but as I’ve been arguing recently, I do believe the MAGA sensibilities of many white evangelicals have long roots in the history of evangelical higher education. Back in the 1920s, fundamentalist college leaders looked angrily and resentfully at the changes that had occurred at many mainstream schools.

Riley WSJ review

Subscription only, I’m afraid.

Riley puts her finger on this enduring tension at the heart of evangelical higher education. As she concludes her review,

Caught between the vast changes in American higher education and the religious families they are supposed to serve, fundamentalist colleges have had to be especially attuned to which way the cultural winds are blowing. Which may occasionally get them some incongruous commencement speakers.

According to Riley, Fundamentalist U

takes a topic that could easily be treated with condescension and turns it into the occasion for a fascinating and careful history.

Thanks to Riley and WSJ for the thoughtful review.

Why Care about Evangelical Colleges?

Why should historians of religion care about schools? How can our study of history help us heal our culture-war ulcers? This week, I had the chance to talk with Professor Andrea Turpin of Baylor University about these questions and more.

RiAH FU interview

Every mystery explained…

Professor Turpin is one of the few humans who is as fascinated by evangelical educational history as I am. Her first award-winning book examined questions of gender, religion, morality and higher education in the nineteenth century. new moral vision

In our interview, she asked terrific questions that got right to the heart of the matter. What does the history of evangelical higher education tell us about the relationship between “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals?” How does political conservatism line up with theological conservatism? …and more!

For my awkward attempts at answers, click on over to Religion in American History and read the whole thing. Many thanks to Prof. Turpin!

Keeping the Faith in Evangelical Colleges

Thanks to Eric Miller and Religion & Politics for publishing an interview this afternoon about Fundamentalist U.Bob-Jones-GettyImages-50615822-780x508

Professor Miller asked questions that got right at the heart of the book: What does it mean to be a “real” college? How did students react to the strict rules at evangelical colleges? Do evangelical schools have academic freedom?

Click on over to read the entire thing.

At first, I thought Professor Miller was simply a peculiarly acute reader, but it turns out he himself spent some time in evangelical higher ed, so he really knew what he was talking about.

Cheapskate Corner!

Okay, SAGLRROILYBYGTH: No more excuses. You can’t afford NOT to buy your copy of Fundamentalist U now.

amazon saleApparently sales have been brisk. By the mysterious logarithms of our Amazon overlords, that means they lower the sticker price. I noticed this morning that Amazon has lowered the price to a measly fifteen bucks! So get yr copy today.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Welcome to your weekly round-up of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs. Thanks to everyone who sent in tips.

Nun in the huddle! Sister Jean and March Madness, at NYT. HT: DW.

calvin reading

My kind of Calvinism…

White evangelicalism—the church of the “slave state,” at Forbes. [Editor’s note: The original Forbes article was taken down as “way out of bounds,” but the text is still available at this new link. Thanks to alert reader for pointing it out.]

Don’t have your copy of Fundamentalist U yet?

Campus cults and “passion plays:” “War on Cops” author Heather MacDonald talks with “What’s Happened to the University” author Frank Furedi at CJ.

What do college students think about free speech on campus? New poll numbers at KF.

What does Queen Betsy think? A tough interview at 60 Minutes.

Creationist Ken Ham praises the Oklahoma university that welcomed his lecture—see his op-ed at KHB.

The view from Greenville: An instructor at Bob Jones U explains why he voted Trump, at HNN.

Dripping Wax: Professor Amy Wax suspended from teaching mandatory class after latest disparaging racial remarks. At IHE.

Is the Museum of the Bible just an evangelical missionary outfit “masquerad[ing] as an educational institution”? That’s the charge at R&P.

Teacher pay and underpay: Check your state at Vox.

Students who walk out should be punished. So says Daniel Willingham. HT: XX

Too close for comfort? Ben Carson’s aide chummy with secretive religious charity, at the Guardian. HT: LC.

We’re Trending!

You might have trended before. I don’t think I have. I’m a little dizzy…

IHE FU story

Does this mean I’ll need new outfits?

Dress for Success!

Well, friends, March 1st is just around the corner. And that means the official release of my new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education. Cover art final

I’ve heard from none of you that you plan to “Harry-Potter” this release. That is, that you plan to camp out all night at the bookstore on Wednesday, February 28th, dressed as your favorite personage from Fundamentalist U. For those of you who will be doing so, I’ll share here a few images of the people you might choose to dress up as.

I’m not sure how many of them were in Hufflepuff…

All of these people play important roles in the history of conservative evangelical higher education. For bonus points, can you match the pix to the names? Or the names to the relevant institutions?

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Mark Noll
  2. Elisabeth Howard Elliot
  3. Russell Mixter
  4. Henry Morris
  5. James M. Gray
  6. Clifton Fowler
  7. Hudson Armerding
  8. Charles Blanchard
  9. Larycia Hawkins
  10. J. Oliver Buswell

Have fun, and see you at the bookstore!

Trumpist Towers? Or Critical Colleges?

I’ve said it before and now I’m saying it again: Trumpism speaks to long traditions among white evangelicals. And time and again, evangelical colleges have been the institutional homes of Trump-like yearnings to “make America great again.” As I argue this afternoon over at Religion Dispatches, however, evangelical colleges have also played another key role.

RD screenshot

Are evangelical colleges bastions of Trumpism? Or are they the only places evangelicals can turn to find out what’s wrong with loving The Donald?

I won’t give away the entire argument. SAGLRROILYBYGTH might be bored to tears with the topic and you can read the whole thing if you’re interested. But I will say that it’s no surprise that President Trump loves Liberty University. It’s also no surprise, however, that the Liberty community isn’t sure if they love him back.