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U.S. EDUCATION > The U.S. Education System > Diversity in Education > Religiously Affiliated Colleges

Religiously Affiliated Colleges

Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M.

Religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the United States all have their own manner of combining the religious and the academic. In this essay, Father David M. O'Connell, president of The Catholic University of America and presenter at the Harvard University Conference on the Future of Religious Colleges, discusses his view of the "value added" to higher education by religious colleges. Following this essay, we also feature several statements from other religiously affiliated schools to illustrate some of the other approaches.Those interested in the specific policies or philosophy of any particular school should contact that school directly for the most complete information. Inclusion of this information in this journal is meant to provide readers with sources of information, not to promote or endorse any particular doctrine or program.

In the midst of what has become rather aggressive competition for students, colleges and universities in the United States must demonstrate to their potential clientele what makes them unique and worthy of special consideration. Every institution will lay claim to "academic excellence" and the "best program" in this or that discipline to be sure, but is there something else that can demonstrate a "mark of difference"? Religious institutions, in contrast to secular colleges, believe that mark to be the dimension of faith.

For a college to be directly influenced by a particular religion or faith communicates to the secular academic world that the religious institution possesses (1) a sense of its own distinctiveness and difference within the academy, and (2) a conviction that it makes a purposeful contribution to higher learning through faith.

Education sheds light on human experience through reason. It enlightens the mind. Religious education does so in a way that identifies human experience in terms of the God of both reason and faith. It enlightens the mind and the soul. Through religious education, we encounter truth, intelligible to the reasoning mind but also accessible on a deeper level and meaningful to the believing heart and the soul. I read once that "religion is not primarily a matter of facts but a matter of meanings."

Religious colleges attempt to present both reason and faith, not separately but as two distinct yet related components of one integrated truth. It is interesting to note that some of the most accomplished and widely recognized institutions of higher learning in the United States identify their origins in some religious faith confession. For some reason, however, these religious affiliations grew less important to participation in the academic enterprise with the passage of time, and so two different models of and approaches to higher education developed: the purely secular model/approach and the religious model/approach.

When a student and his or her parents choose a religious college or university, they are choosing an institution that has a distinctive identity and mission rooted in a distinctive religious tradition. That tradition should permeate the institution and its operations and activities. It should be evident in the classroom as well as in student life on campus. Faculty and staff should be committed to that mission and not merely tolerant of it as though it offered little real value to the academic enterprise. If an academic institution is truly religious, it will be clear to everyone on and off campus that there is "value added" to higher education by the religious college and its mission, and that this value added is something that interests people, that draws them to the institution in such a way that what they perceive as being uniquely provided is something that they really want. It will make a difference in their education and in their lives. The ability of religious colleges to market themselves as both religious and academically superior to an audience that wants what they have to offer will ensure their long-term survival and ability to fulfill their mission which, in the end, will serve to advance the true diversity that is the hallmark of American higher education.

This is certainly the philosophy at work in The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.

Campbell University, a Southern Baptist (Protestant) school in North Carolina, explains its goal as helping students develop an integrated Christian personality characterized by a wholeness of body, mind, and spirit that includes a method of critical judgment; an appreciation of the intellectual, cultural, and religious heritage; stewardship of the body; and a sensitive awareness of the world and society in which they live and work with persons. The university sees the human vocation as living by faith under grace, with no conflict between the life of faith and the life of inquiry.

Brandeis University in Massachusetts is one of the youngest private research universities, as well as the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country. According to the Brandeis University Mission Statement, Brandeis was founded in 1948 as a nonsectarian university under the sponsorship of the American Jewish community to embody its highest ethical and cultural values and to express its gratitude to the United States through the traditional Jewish commitment to education. By being a nonsectarian university that welcomes students, teachers, and staff of every nation, religion, and political orientation, Brandeis renews the American heritage of cultural diversity, equal access to opportunity, and freedom of expression.

Pacific Lutheran College in the state of Washington was founded by settlers of the Protestant Lutheran denomination. Pacific Lutheran College cherishes its dedication to educating for lives of service, as well as its distinguished and distinctive academic program that emphasizes curricular integration and active learning.

The Hartford Seminary in Connecticut was founded by the Protestant Christian Congregationalist denomination. Today, in addition to Christian education programs, the seminary includes the Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, and its master's-level Islamic chaplaincy program. The mission of the seminary is to serve God by preparing leaders, students, scholars, and religious institutions to understand and live faithfully in today's multi-faith and pluralistic world; by teaching, research, informing the public, and engaging persons in dialogue; and by affirming the particularities of faith and social context while openly exploring differences and commonalities.






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