One of the pleasures of my work with the Emerging Scholars Network is meeting Christians who are making a difference on their university campus. Last week, I spoke about ESN at a potluck dinner for about a dozen Christian professors and their spouses at Vanderbilt. They included faculty from medicine, engineering, the sciences, and the humanities, ranging from recently hired faculty to retired senior scholars.
One of the faculty I met, Dr. Ward, had taught French literature and humanities at Penn State, Wheaton, and Vanderbilt, succeeding in both secular and Christian environments. She told me that, when she first arrived at Vandy, some other professors had viewed her with suspicion because she had come from a Christian college. She won them over by proving her ability as a scholar, but also by treating her fellow faculty with respect and integrity, even when they disagreed with her on important issues.
The humanities have one of the lowest rates of Christian faculty of any academic discipline, but there are signs of hope. Several years ago, leading postmodernist Stanley Fish declared that religion would be “the next big thing” in the university. Dr. Ward sees more openness today for professors who want to bring religion into their research.
Gatherings of Christian faculty like this one help build community among Christians on campus. Several of the faculty told me that they knew few, if any, Christians in their department, and getting together with fellow Christians is a great encouragement to them. For others, a dinner like this can the first step toward joining a campus Bible study, becoming an ESN mentor, or thinking more seriously about their faith. Since the early church “breaking bread together,” eating with fellow Christians has been used by God to build up his people.
Pray for these Christian faculty at Vanderbilt as they work on their teaching, research, and service. Pray especially for faculty in “besieged disciplines” like the humanities for openings to bring their faith in Christ into the classroom and their scholarship.