Kimberly Conger on Being Christian in Secular Academia
Date: June 11th, 2012
What is is like to be a practicing Christian in the world of secular academia? While many Christian professors teach at religiously-based universities where public profession of faith is either encouraged or expected, Christian academics working at state colleges and universities operate under a different set of constraints. Prof. Kimberly Conger – an instructor of political science at Colorado State University, and who previously served at Iowa State University and was a Civitas Fellow at The Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington DC — joins Tony to discuss what life is like for Christians in an environment that could potentially be hostile towards people of faith. We begin by exploring Kimberly’s background and why she chose the undergraduate (Wheaton) and graduate (Ohio State) institutions that she did. Along the way, we discover why people from The Ohio State University always emphasize the word “the” when pronouncing their school’s name. Tony also shares his not-so-intellectually deep reasons for choosing his two educational institutions — Marquette and UCLA. Kimberly fills us in on what life was like as a Christian during graduate school and how she became interested in studying religion and politics, which was not her first choice. Kimberly details her graduate school experience in a secular, state institution, noting that several of her fellow students had been Wheaton undergraduates. This observation prompts Tony to remark that while there is a perception that secular academia is hostile towards people of faith, that hostility may be somewhat exaggerated. We then turn to the academic profession and discuss two panels that were organized by Prof. Conger at the Christians in Political Science (CPS) Conference held at Gordon College. Kimberly gives a brief background of what CPS is and is designed to accomplish. We speculate as to why conferences organized by CPS tend not to attract scholars from secular universities or even larger research-oriented religious schools. Part of our explanation centers around the unwillingness of Christian scholars to “self-identify” as religious adherents, or to identify their faith as a central component of their professional life. The issue of teaching then arises and both Kimberly and Tony share their perspectives on how Christians in secular universities interact with students both in the classroom and during office hours where students sometimes unburden themselves of personal issues. We discuss how we handle these situations and note that there is a tension that is often difficult to resolve. Prof. Conger points out that how we interact with our colleagues is also an important dimension of our professional lives. And, as Kimberly further notes, Christian academics have an obligation to help non-academics, particularly those in our congregation, understand what the academic profession is all about. We close with a discussion of how Christian scholars who study Christians represent themselves when conducting research and what particular problems this poses. Recorded: June 4, 2012.
The Christian Right and Republican State Politics, by Kimberly H. Conger.
Christians in Political Science and the CPS Facebook Page.
Corwin Smidt on Religion, Elections and the God Gap.
Luis Bolce on the Media and Anti-Fundamentalism.
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