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“Resisting cultured despair” is a phrase from feminist ethicist Sharon Welch that captured my imagination in graduate school. It is a phrase, or rather a disposition, that named for me my experience with the paralysis (and the privilege) that often prevent us from moving beyond critical description (what is going ...
In a previous post on this blog, I reflected on a common misperception among students preparing for ordained ministry and other leadership roles in Christian community: that studying theology in a formal sense is not of obvious utility in pursuing and exercising one’s larger vocation. I offered several reasons ...
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Based primarily on case studies, Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities brings readers a global perspective on the ways in which Catholic universities are grappling with questions of identity and internationalization. Although many books are limited to a single country or region, this edited collection includes contributions from Latin America, the United States, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. The result is an informed and global account of institutional and socio-political experiences that are shaping and being responded to by Catholic universities today.
This book would be helpful for several audiences. Most obviously, this book would benefit administrators in Catholic higher education who regularly face questions not only of identity and internationalization, but also questions of academic rigor, institutional relevance, and others that the various contributions explore in different ways; this book will put these administrators’ institutional commitments into conversation with other similar institutions. Also, because identity and internationalization are not unique to Catholicism, many universities of secular or other religious heritage would find these contributions insightful for their own institutional contexts. Additionally, Catholic centers that seek to advance issues related to multiculturalism, globalization, international collaboration, issues of common concern (such as climate change or peace studies), or Catholic identity would likewise benefit from learning the ways that these are being discussed among other Catholic institutions in a variety of cultural contexts. Finally, this book would help instructors of practical theology or religion and society courses to have a more global perspective on the ways identity and internationalization affect Catholic organizations. Equipped with this book, faculty could better explain the ways a shifting Catholic identity and a changing society affect Catholic schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and others.
Perhaps a more universal and unique contribution of this book is the frame that the introductory chapter provides for the forthcoming chapters. In walking readers though the impact of identity and internationalization within Catholic universities and providing insights for crafting a strategic plan to more intentionally address these, all of the above audiences are provided with practical ways to navigate the challenges they are facing. Likewise, the chapters that follow each illuminate the ways mission and vision are enabled or constrained by identity, internationalization, and the strategic plan of the university.
The editors could have expanded the reach of their book by providing more theory and analysis, the dearth of which is demonstrated in the lack of scholarly resources in many of the chapters. A more extensive theoretical base would have embedded the valuable empirical findings in a stronger theoretical frame, making the insights more portable to readers.
Still, my desire for a stronger theoretical underpinning to this collection does not take away from the fact that this book makes a valuable contribution to the conversations surrounding identity and internationalization in higher education. Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities is indispensable not only for those in leadership in Catholic higher education, but also for those leading Catholic schools, hospitals, nonprofits, networks, Bishops conferences, and other organizations that seek to make a distinctly Catholic impact in an increasingly global and pluralist world.
The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education:Forming Whole and Holy Persons
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
In The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education, Christopher Gehrz convenes an impressive array of scholars to offer fresh, cross-disciplinary reflections on how the Pietist mandate to form whole and holy persons can invigorate institutions of Christian higher education. Gehrz is professor of history and chair of the history department at Bethel University, and his ongoing work is focused on both tracing and promoting the Pietist impulse within Christianity. His co-authors represent a variety of disciplines, including English, theology, ethics, geography, psychology, nursing, anthropology, physics, philosophy, communication, sociology, and library sciences. The breadth of expertise serves to reinforce the underlying thesis of the book: the Pietistic traditions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany, nineteenth-century Sweden, and twentieth-century Minnesota can provide a “usable past” with which Christian colleges and universities in the twenty-first century can navigate the many challenges facing higher education.
Faculty, staff, and administrators need not serve at institutions traditionally associated with the Pietist tradition to find resonance with the authors’ ideas and perspectives. While the chapters offer a healthy accounting of the influence of Pietism on Christian higher education, the calling to form “whole and holy persons” is broadly shared within the Christian tradition. To be sure, the chapters are written squarely from the Pietist perspective. However, all Christian educators can find avenues for reflection and practices for implementation within this book. The dedication to a holistic vision of student formation, mentoring, teaching, scholarship, and service is a shared and unifying value across the diversity of Christian institutions today – and even as this vision is articulated and pursued in different ways, the Pietist vision offers a unique and compelling framework for contemporary application.
The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education is organized into four sections and includes an introduction and conclusion by Gehrz. Part one investigates the themes of teaching, scholarship, and community in the Pietist university. Part two explores how changed people change the world. Part three offers responses to the Pietist vision from the natural and health sciences. Part four then explores problems and proposals for putting the Pietist vision into practice. Each chapter is written by a different author, and this brings a refreshing collaborative tone to the entire volume. Even with seventeen different contributors, the book maintains a consistent tone and stays focused on Pietism’s unique influence on Christian higher education.
The book is a testament to how the Bethel community deliberately embraces the “usable past” of their own Pietist tradition. Each author has a direct connection to the university, and this means that readers receive rare insights into the Pietist workings of an institution from many different perspectives, disciplines, and backgrounds. The downside to this institution-centric approach is that readers may be challenged by how to appropriate the uniquely-Bethel Pietist ethos to other institutional contexts. However, even though we now know what it means to foster Pietism’s usable past at Bethel, other universities can and should glean from Bethel’s insights as they explore the implications of their own usable pasts for innovation in the future.