Talks on Pietism and Higher Ed: Interfaith Dialogue and Off-Campus Study

Those interested in getting early glimpses of our forthcoming book for InterVarsity Press, Whole and Holy Persons: A Pietist Approach to Christian Higher Education, can now watch video of the first two in a series of six talks by contributors to that volume.

Ad for Marion Larson and Sara Shady's talk earlier this monthEarlier this month in the Bethel University Library, Marion Larson (English) and Sara Shady (Philosophy) presented “Loving My (Religious) Other,” in which they put German Pietists like Philipp Spener, Johanna Eleonora Petersen, and August Hermann Francke in conversation with contemporary writers Miroslav Volf (Allah: A Christian Response) and Brian McLaren (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World) to help explain the value of Christian college students and professors engaging in interfaith dialogue and service. I can’t think of a better topic for this team, which has played a leading role in guiding Bethel’s participation in the White House’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

Click here to watch Marion and Sara’s talk.

Then the second talk now available for viewing is my own, “Pietism from the High Sierra to The Somme: Holistic Education in the Ecclesiola of Off-Campus Study.” As I explain in the talk, this was originally to be a chapter co-written by philosopher David Williams (Azusa Pacific University) and myself, but in thinking through some of our presuppositions about teaching and scholarship, David produced a stand-alone piece that promises to be one of the centerpieces of the Whole and Holy Persons collection. But I went ahead with a presentation outlining our essay on off-campus study because it previewed at least a couple of key themes that should show up in the book next year.

David Williams climbing in the High SierrasThe talk started with a path not taken in Bethel history: then-president Carl Lundquist’s 1976 proposal that Bethel build its own retreat center and incorporate spiritual retreats into the college curriculum. (Read my earlier post on the Christian liberal arts as spiritual retreat, highlights of which made their way into my Library talk.) The retreat center never came to be, but inspired by David’s extensive experience teaching in and leading Azusa Pacific’s High Sierra Program and my non-extensive experience leading a J-term trip to Europe this past January, we suggested that off-campus study provided some of the same benefits — both of which are central to a Pietist model of higher education.

First, off-campus study provides a unique space in which the boundaries between academics, student development, and campus ministry can productively blur into a truly holistic educational experience — as when we took students around the places where the Battle of the Somme was fought during World War I, a day that concluded with our group celebrating Communion together in the basilica in Albert, France and talking about what we’d experienced over dinner and then as the only guests of the small town’s youth hostel.

Second, I turned to the classical Pietist notion of the ecclesiola in ecclesia — the “little church in the church.” Just as the Christian college itself serves as a kind of ecclesiola for the Church, both renewing and challenging it, it is essential to a Pietist model that the college then encourage its own ecclesiolae, to act as semi-autonomous centers of enrichment and experimentation. Off-campus programs and trips are obvious examples of the pattern, but I suggested that on-campus ecclesiolae could be developed as well.

The series continued yesterday with psychologist Kathy Nevins’ talk on the classroom as a pietistic community, with philosopher Ray VanArragon’s presentation on intellectual virtues like humility and open-mindedness (and their limits) scheduled for next week. I’ll post those videos as they become available. (And I’ll plan to live-tweet Ray’s talk — look for the #wholeandholypersons hashtag.)

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