Sommerville, C. John. The Decline of the Secular University. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Chapter 10, “How Religious Scholars Could Contribute” pp. 121-133.
Sommerville concedes that religious voices have not been speaking within academia for some time. While some religious people wish to have their voice heard as a matter of equal access, Sommerville’s contention is on different grounds. Because secularism has not accomplished the goals set forth about a hundred years ago, religious voices need to be heard as a good faith attempt to achieve those goals (Sommerville 2006, 121). Unfortunately, “religion has seemed to be devoid of intellectual merit. Religious views on important questions have not developed and have become nearly invisible” (Sommerville 2006, 122). It may be that different philosophies would end up approaching problems in different ways. This could require extensive adjustment in the structure of a university. Sommerville also concedes that religious scholars may not immediately be prepared to approach their disciplines with their religious ideas in full operation (Sommerville 2006, 123). However, there are examples of religious thinkers who are able to approach their disciplines in a way consistent with their faith. At the same time, Sommerville is clear that we do not prefer religious points of view simply because they are religious. We prefer points of view which are superior to others (Sommerville 2006, 124).
Sommerville further proposes that scholars who are religious need to consider how they enter dialogue (Sommerville 2006, 125). Traditional theological terms are not always easy to relate to current debates. The language of the existing discipline provides a starting point for ongoing discussion. It is important to find the connection points for philosophical debate and analysis (Sommerville 2006, 126).
Another factor Sommerville recognizes is that discussion of religious connections may be better handled using the language of perspectives rather than binding propositions. Sommerville illustrates some different methods of argumentation so the reader will see the difference (Sommerville 2006, 128). The essence of the discussion is to uncover assumptions and expose them to careful consideration. Sommerville considers elements of religion to be a natural and important part of that process (Sommerville 2006, 129). He even goes so far as to illustrate that the basic way we consider history and research is based on Christian, not pagan, methods, ideals, and assumptions. We assume a basic linear pattern, a moral agency in actors, and that there are selfish motives in every actor, among other things. These would not be the assumptions of a Greek or Roman in antiquity. Our human categories are based on religious assumptions, and in the West, those assumptions bear a similarity to Christianity (Sommerville 2006, 130). The religious categories allow us to explore assumptions.
Sommerville considers possible reasons for an academic attitude dismissing religion. He thinks it often comes from insecurity on the part of the professors. They may be avoiding difficult philosophical questions because those questions culd threaten their assumptions. Christians have taken the dismissal of their views as a sign that their scholarship is not welcome. Sommerville suggests reconciliation may occur when Christians form study centers at universities so as toengage ideas in a serious manner (Sommerville 2006, 132).