Westmont Magazine "God on the Quad"
A New Book Dispels Myths About Religious Higher Education
Enrollment at faith-related colleges has soared in recent years. To understand this phenomenon and explore what it means for American society, journalist Naomi Shaefer Riley wrote, “God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America.”
Westmont was one of 20 schools Riley visited while conducting her research. She spent time at Jewish, Mormon and Buddhist institutions as well. Quotes from several Westmont professors appear in the book.
A journalist and a “moderately observant Jew,” Riley considers herself an outsider looking in at the world of religious higher education. The intellectual rigor of the schools she visited surprised her.
“The widely held notion that the members of strongly religious communities in America are somehow intellectually backward is a myth,” she writes. “Devotion to the idea that ‘the glory of God is intelligence’ is ubiquitous among religious colleges, and the schools disproportionately require students to complete a rigorous traditional core curriculum at the same time that the curricula of their secular rivals have often been watered down.”
“I appreciate Naomi Shaefer Riley’s efforts to take Christian higher education seriously as an important phenomenon,” says Provost Shirley Mullen. “Her work, while raising interesting issues that require further study, seeks to be fair-minded and might provoke helpful attention on Christian higher education among those who have been unaware, uninterested or openly dismissive of the Christian contribution to post-secondary education.
“The author openly admits that she has approached her work as a journalist, without the more careful methodological precision of a scholar,” Mullen adds. “While we question the ways in which some of her case studies shape the overall picture of Christian higher education, it is refreshing to be the object of generally appreciative puzzlement and reflection by someone looking in from the outside. It’s instructive to us that some of the things we think we are doing — and that we think we are about — do not seem to be obvious to someone looking in for a few days.”
A graduate of Harvard, Riley edits the new journal In Character and serves as adjunct fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her articles have appeared in the American Enterprise, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, National Review and the New York Times, among others.