Academics Who Care: The Society of Christian Scholars

Intro Blog Post #5

Life, we are told, is a struggle to survive. In much of the academy today, its publish or perish, for both professors and students. In the workplace, its produce or perish, in the market its profit or perish, at home with the Jones’ next door its purchase or perish, and at tax time, its pay or perish.  We are a driven culture, subjects of an economy of competition, where the fittest survive best.

John Ralston Saul said in The Doubter’s Companion that competition is “an event in which there are more losers than winners. Otherwise its not a competition. A society based on competition is therefore primarily a society of losers.”

The academy, historically a place of leisure, has taken on the pace and culture of the economy. University of Toronto campus minister Brian Walsh said once: “The ethos of the whole institution seems committed to an ideology of humanist autonomy, economic growth, technological supremacy and a careerism that knows nothing of commitment beyond the next step up the institutional or corporate ladder.” That may not be the culture of every university department, but that ethos would not be unfamiliar to most academics.

Jane Jacobs, the another Torontonian, says the sad truth is that education has become more like a giant industry today. In her recent book Dark Age Ahead she says, “Credentialing, not educating, has become the primary business of North American universities…”(49)  The critique isn’t that far off:  I was minister at a public university for 8 years that had the motto “Your Career Begins Here.” University is not about learning, growing in wisdom, or preparing for world service: its about career, literally from the Latin, “a race.”

In the midst of this tight-fisted personal striving is a company of people who practice a different economy, call it the economy of the Christ. The heart of this economy is not competition, but rather care. For Jesus Christ, God’s Word to humanity, healed and fed people, and then gave his life in love for the lost on a forsaken tree, and rose from his ignominy to a new life of love and service.

Learning and researching, thus, are for serving. The goal of the academy in Christian terms is to cultivate human flourishing. This is done by collaborating with like-minded others, forming communities of care and service, and working for the positive transformation of lives and communities worldwide. This is not only a soft, feminine caring, but also a strong, standing for what’s right caring. Care for a garden is planting seeds and watering, but also weeding, pruning, and fighting off vermin and destructive vagabonds.

This curating of ideas and intellectual practices is what the Society of Christian Scholars seeks to do. Its a web portal that invites members who share a Christian commitment to develop themselves into a world-wide guild of scholars who collaborate, share knowledge, mentor each other, write papers and research, for the sake of furthering the flourishing of the planet and what they understand to be God’s kingdom on earth—an invisible society where the love of God and neighbour rules all things.

Its a powerful technology that hopes to nurture a warm and lively community of like-minded scholars and become a significant transnational influence for good. Its is becoming a wealth of virtual libraries, webinars, job postings, and conferencing for academics who share a commitment to the Christian faith, the church, God’s kingdom, and the planet.

There is much more to say about this–another time. For now, we hope the SCS will not take on the competitive culture of the market or the selfish arrogance of the academy but be a place where “losers” in that rat race can find a home and a place to serve. It seeks to be a place without winners and losers, but instead a place of friendship and collegiality for a common purpose. Being a networked transnational community is a challenge, but we hope some of its collaborative spirit trickles down into offices and departments around the world.

Water colour by Julia Veenstra. I was given this painting after speaking on the woman at the well (John 4) at an Ontario Christian Teachers Association conference in ~ 2009.

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