Christians Engaging the University

On the 1st June, 2013, a group of 30 postgraduates and academics from a wide range of disciplines gathered at the University of Queensland St Lucia campus to think about how to provide a reasonable Christian perspective on their area of expertise, and, in so doing, how to be better equipped to challenge misconceptions and biases against Christianity whilst approaching their work in an appropriate manner.

The meeting kicked off by listening to a thirty minute talk, <a href="http://ifesworld.org/media/audio/wa2011-aen-engage-terence">Engaging the University</a>, given by Dr. Terry Halliday (a prominent scholar on the sociology of law) at the 2011 Congress of IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students), before discussing some of the key points of the talk. These included a description of three models that are being implemented in universities worldwide: the ‘pietistic model’, in which Christians keep to themselves and concentrate on living a godly life separate from the university; the ‘apologetic model’ which is characterised by a defensive attitude against the secular views of the university, and the ‘dialogic model’ in which the commonly-held views in the university are taken seriously and serious engagement between Christian staff and students can occur. It was suggested that the ‘dialogic model’ is the only one which realistically serves to proactively overcome barriers between students and academics, whilst remaining relevant and respecting the intellectual capabilities of academics by encouraging intellectual conversation with people of other belief systems.

Various members of the group then gave short (5-10 minute) presentations on their area of research whilst highlighting some possible thoughts about how this is related to the Gospel and a Christian worldview. The fields covered were diverse and included Political Science and International Relations, Quantum Physics, Biochemistry, Architecture, Computer Science, Chemistry, and Law. Some key questions that were brought up and discussed in detail included the following:

  • Does the research raise ethical issues?
  • What are some good/bad technological applications of the area of research?
  • What mis-conceptions do some Christians have about certain areas of research (e.g. philosophy, evolution, multi-culturalism)?
  • What are some of the key assumptions in the research field that may or may not be supported by a Biblical world view?
  • How does being a Christian impact one’s professional conduct and interaction with colleagues?
  • As academics in the developed world, does being a Christian influence how we see academics in the same areas of expertise in resource-less situations within Third World countries?

The gathering was refreshing and stimulated much thought and discussion; another is being planned for within the next six months of the year … watch this space!