The Church and the Humanities

Can we recover a lost focus of learning?

Joseph M. Keegin catches us up on the rejection of the humanities by the contemporary academy, but he offers hope (“Toward the Renewal of Humanistic Education in America,” Breaking Ground, February 27, 2021).

He echoes the complaint of many, that “the American academy churns out degreed technicians who have had the love of humane learning drummed out of them, or who had never been given a taste for it at all.” This has been a long-time issue in higher education, though matters are as bad now as they’ve ever been.

The pandemic has created a bit of soul-searching in the academy, causing universities to wonder about their futures and the exorbitant tuition rates they charge for people to study online. Surely we are going to see the shuttering of many campuses of higher learning. This could prove even more disastrous for the humanities.

Many are calling for new institutions devoted to the study of humanities. But efforts should also be undertaken at the secondary school level to introduce students to the beauty and value of these studies.

Mr. Keegin wonders if the Church should take advantage of this opportunity. He relates his own experience of churches which have taken this challenge seriously, and he believes that more such opportunities could help to revive faltering congregations and reinvigorate educational institutions which have set the humanities aside. He agrees with Ivan Illich who taught that “Christianity is uniquely suited to address this problem of institutionality, and ultimately to reinvigorate humanistic education in America.” Christ came “to direct us toward holiness and to make us members of a community grounded in divine love, justice, and mercy rather than acquisitiveness and human caprice.” In a truly Christian education, “The guidance of the soul toward the good is the only aim; everything else is incidental.”

Mr. Keegin makes some very good points in calling the Church to step up to the challenge of reinvigorating humanistic studies. All the Reformers were humanists, as were most of the Puritans and many early evangelicals. But it will take pastors with a vision for broader learning – both for themselves and their congregations – if Mr. Keegin’s ideas are ever to come more brightly onto the ecclesiastical and educational stage.


Print   Email