Philosophy at Evangelical Colleges

Cedarville logoAs part of a larger controversy boiling over at Cedarville University, its board of trustees last month voted to cut the school’s philosophy major, approving a recommendation made by the Academic Council earlier in January. Reporters and commentators tended to associate the elimination of philosophy (along with the resignation of the school’s president and vice president for student life) with a move back in the direction of Cedarville’s fundamentalist roots and a drift away from moderate (that term meant theologically and politically) evangelicalism. (For example: Bart Gingerich at Juicy Ecumenism, Melissa Steffan at Christianity Today, and Mark Oppenheimer at the New York Times.)

I’m sure there are factors at work here that are particular to Cedarville — like my employer, a Baptist-founded member of the evangelical Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) — but it got me wondering:

Would it be unusual for a CCCU member not to have a philosophy major? (According to the report on the Cedarville board’s decision, the philosophy minor would remain, as would philosophy courses in the general education curriculum.)

Or a distinct philosophy department? (At Cedarville, that major was administered out of the Biblical and Ministry Studies department.)

Or, indeed, not to have any philosophers on the faculty? (From what I’ve seen, it’s not clear what will happen to Cedarville’s two primary philosophy professors.)

Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

After all, having “Broad curricula rooted in the arts and sciences” is one of the stated “characteristics” for membership in the CCCU, and the CCCU schools that I know best all avow a commitment to the liberal arts.

So, is Cedarville becoming less like the rest of the CCCU membership by dropping its philosophy major?

Such are the questions that led me to spend a few hours perusing the websites of the Council’s 114 other American members. Keeping in the mind the limitations of such a methodology (not all websites are kept current; it’s sometimes hard to discern which faculty are full-time, and I didn’t count adjuncts or emeriti, or if scholars with dual appointments in, say, philosophy and theology are really trained in the former field), here’s what I found:

• 43% have a Philosophy major, another 11% offer Philosophy in combination with Religion or Theology (or as a concentration in a “Christian Studies” program) and another 9% have a minor only. The remainder (37%) have no philosophy program of any sort that I could find.

• 45% have no full-time philosophy faculty, 18% have one philosopher, and 16% have two. The median number of full-time philosophers in CCCU schools: one.

• Of those offering some kind of Philosophy program, about three-eighths have a separate Philosophy department, while the remainder house their philosopher(s) in another department (or in one combining Philosophy with Religion, Theology, or other disciplines).

• Of the 22 other CCCU members that, like Cedarville, are listed by the Southern Baptist Convention, twelve have no philosophers and five have one. Only four have philosophy departments (Hannibal-LaGrange, Hardin-Simmons, Houston Baptist, and Oklahoma Baptist), though California Baptist and Union (which offer Philosophy through Christian Ministries and Theology and Missions units, respectively) join Houston Baptist in having the most philosophers on faculty, with three each.

Philosophy in DictionaryCalvin (14), Azusa Pacific (10), Wheaton (7), Bethel (6), Gordon (5), and Seattle Pacific (5) have the most philosophy professors. (Azusa’s ten sharing a department with theology.)

Given how events at Cedarville have sometimes been interpreted as having political implications, I was also curious if there seemed to be any correlation between the perceived conservatism (or liberalism) of a Christian campus and the strength of its philosophy program (at least as measured by number of faculty). So I went back to the ratings of student conservatism that I blogged about last August and plugged them into my philosophy spreadsheet. Here are the average “most conservative” rankings for the CCCU schools with the largest philosophy faculties (the twenty-three with at least three professors) and those with zero philosophers that had enough student rankings to show up on the “most conservative” list: (scale of 1-10, with 10 being most conservative)

  • Schools with at least three philosophy professors: 7.82
  • Schools with no philosophy professors: 7.81

Of course, it’s entirely possible that lots of the smaller schools without enough student data to be ranked are actually very conservative, but…

Anyway, it’s late on a Friday afternoon and I don’t have the energy to bloviate, but count me on the side of Cedarville philosophy professor Shawn Graves, quoted in an article published in the campus newspaper: “It seems hard to maintain the claim that we are a liberal arts university if we are actively pursuing the elimination of one of the core liberal arts.”

I’m grateful to be working at a Christian college that takes that core seriously enough to support a good-sized philosophy department, and to have worked with (and learned from) several of those professors when we’ve taught together in Bethel’s general education program.

4 thoughts on “Philosophy at Evangelical Colleges

  1. Chris,
    I don’t know if this came through in your search, but Northwestern is upgrading its Philosophy Minor to a Philosophy Major and upgrading faculty from 1 to 2. That’s a small step, but one in the right direction.

      1. My concern is that there are fewer and fewer philosophy majors at any college or university–just as there are fewer majors in other areas of the liberal arts. Business/marketing/finance majors seem to set the pace because they have better income potential. We need more people who have learned to think by taking philosphy classes; learned about national and world events by taking history classes and learned to govern by actually taking political science classes.

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