Academic calls for creation of Christian universities

Biblical values are needed to balance secular bias, claims lecturer. Melanie Newman reports

October 16, 2008

Britain needs Christian universities to counter the focus on "wealth creation and utilitarianism" in the secular higher education sector and to teach students biblical values across all subjects.

This is the view of Nigel Paterson, a lecturer at the University of Winchester, published in a paper for the Jubilee Centre, a Christian social reform organisation.

In Do We Need a Christian University?, he proposes a model Christian university that would use the Bible within all its courses.

Dr Paterson, who trained in natural sciences at the University of Cambridge and now lectures in English at Winchester, said two or three Christian universities would enrich the country and contrast with the "spiritual vacuum" elsewhere in higher education.

Secular universities' energies "can all too easily be directed by political influences towards wealth creation and utilitarianism", he said, while a Christian institution could nurture subjects "that might easily be blocked from starting or closed down in the secular academy".

A model Christian university would prioritise the study of theology, once "the queen of sciences", Dr Paterson said, with all disciplines accepting that "there is a religious dimension to life that merits respect and academic scrutiny".

Britain already has 14 "church" universities and colleges founded by religious denominations that maintain links to the Church. Asked whether more courses in theology would be viable, Dr Paterson said that a Christian university could expect to attract UK and international students from evangelical, pentecostal and charismatic churches.

He said that while a fully Christian university could specialise in the arts and humanities, avoiding the challenge of finding funding for scientific research, it would be "detrimental to both science and the world" to avoid the study of science.

Scientists would be likely to protest the study of science at such an institution if it followed the line recommended by Dr Paterson and embraced "the creation mandate".

The paper lists some arguments against setting up a Christian university, including the risk of "ghettoising" students and "rendering them ill-prepared for life and influence in a largely secular society".

Dr Paterson also questioned whether there were enough Christians to staff such a university. If not, it would have to employ "non-Christians purporting to model Christian values", which would be counterproductive. There was also a risk that a Christian university would be perceived as divisive and "may be charged with ... indirectly justifying the foundation of new universities loyal to other religions, such as Islam".

As an alternative, Christian pre-university courses could be offered to gap-year students, Dr Paterson suggested. This would "help Christian students to carry greater influence into universities worldwide".

Arthur Jones, senior tutor at West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies in Leeds, said the school had already attempted to provide a one-year gap course for Christian students. "It worked very well, but we were unable to recruit enough students in the longer term. It is a 'chicken and egg' situation: in the absence of a Christian tertiary sector there is no awareness or promotion in our churches of such a choice as a real option for Christian students," he said.

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