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Evangelicals and the University--Skeel

I agree completely with Bill’s comments about (non) bias against evangelicals in the university. My own experience is very similar. Like Bill, I’ve always been up front about my faith, and it has never hurt me in any discernible way at the law schools I’ve been associated with (Penn and Temple on a full-time basis, three others as a visiting professor). To the contrary, I’ve often gotten the impression that my being an evangelical is viewed positively, as a source of diversity.

I have only one caveat to add. Christian scholars (not just an evangelicals but Catholics and main line Protestants as well) seem to have more difficulty persuading top law reviews to publish work that they write from an identifiably Christian perspective, than work that looks more like traditional scholarship. I suspect that there may be a similar dynamic on many tenure committees: scholarship from a Christian perspective doesn’t carry quite as much weight as scholarship that looks more like the other, secular scholarship in the scholar’s field. This doesn’t necessarily reflect any bias: it may be the scholarship is simply unfamiliar or seems hard to evaluate. But when young evangelical scholars ask me for advice about faith and scholarship, I encourage them to write both kinds of scholarship: some scholarship from an explicitly Christian perspective, but also more traditional scholarship that directly engages the best secular scholarship in their field on its own terms.


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Comments ( 5 )

I suspect that if you were a biologist your experience would be a little bit different. Why does UPenn feel it necessary to put a disclaimer on their website about Michael Behe? Do they do that for anyone else?

I wonder if the fact that you are both law professors has any bearing on your experiences?

My own view is that there is a bias against serious religious believers of most any stripe, but especially against more conservative protestants and Catholics. But it varies a great deal according to discipline and even from department to department. But the bias is real, and I think it really is bias, not just a broad view that so-and-so has the wrong views on things. It's probably amplified by the fact that serious religious belief is associated (empirically) with politically conservative views (which, as Ilya Somin over at Volokh has pointed out muddies up the analysis a good bit). But independent of that association, too many faculty members are willing to ascribe to believers all sorts of pathological irrationalities, phobias, etc., and think them as a class unfit to be employed as colleagues.

Things have improved (as Stuntz notes in his post), but I suspect also for two reasons that he doesn't mention: (1) the increased willingness of evangelicals in particular to go to grad schools; and (2) the rise of post-modernism, which seems to have had the effect of making the professoriate a little less sure of its "rational" truth-claims.

But consider this: do you think it would be fair to say that evangelicals in particular are the most underrepresented "group" on campus faculties? I seem to recall a university professor losing his job largely over his merely questioning the idea that the underrepresentation of women among the highest reaches of academia's math and science researchers was due entirely to bias of some sort. My guess - and it's only a guess - is that evangelicals are even less well represented, especially at the R1 levels, and yet, no school or department that I know of has ever - ever - talked publicly about it. I wonder why?

I do suspect the experience is likely to vary by discipline, with relations being most fraught in the sciences. (Though, in response to John, I don't think Penn's website says anything about Behe, who's at Lehigh, another PA university).

On the underrepresentation of evangelicals, I do suspect that evangelicals are indeed one of the most underrepresented groups, if you compare percentages in most department faculties to percentages in the general population. I'd be curious to see how the faculty percentages compare to percentages of people with the relevant doctorate or other degree. Here, I suspect the mismatch is less dramatic. And I suspect the percentage of evangelicals has been increasing at least to some extent in both categories. One interesting possible reasons for this, in addition to the two Bryan mentions, is that as universities have become more geographically diverse than they once were, evangelicals have benefitted.

You're right on the relevant comparison group (e.g. those who get doctorates) and I'm sure that evangelicals in particular have pursued doctorates (especially at the top schools) in disproportionately smaller numbers than other groups. Of course, again, were there similar numbers for certain other groups, there wouldn't be lots of academics willing to find explanations that didn't include bias.

I should note as well, though, that I don't mean to endorse any kind of "woe-is-us" attitude with my claims of bias. I think the bias is real and being up-front about one's faith will mean reduced opportunities for employment. But the solution is for theologically orthodox believers to hitch up their pants, do the work required, and get themselves into the highest reaches of academic life. It can be done -- it's not easy, but it can be done. The only way, in my view, that the bias gets eased is for faculty members to meet, argue with, and come to respect scholars who are serious religious believers. The burden's on us, fair or not. Speaking of...

This discussion may well have petered out, but, in case it has not, let me say thanks to both Bill and David for furthering it to this point.

As a graduate student and orthodox Christian myself, it seems to me that the biggest issue Bryan's comments point to is the question of being "up front" concerning one's religious commitments. As I see it, there is very little to gain in being "up-front" when it is not clear that one's religious convictions have any real purchase on the question at hand. Simply put, one's religious convictions are only germane to issues of academic import when they are germane to issues of academic study. And, at times, in my experience at least, religious convictions have little or nothing to do with the problem at hand. So it seems to me that the question has to do with the type of prudential judgment needed to navigate institutional life--what are the sorts of issues wherein my religious commitments bear weight, etc?

This is not to deny that our faith is comprehensive in scope, but only that explanation of it need be. There are many points of overlapping consensus (oh Rawls--you are everywhere!) between religious believers and more secular folks and it is the way of prudence, to my mind, that is most important for evangelicals in the academy now.