How Do Christian Faculty Integrate Their Faith and Work?

Boating at Cedar Campus

How many academic conferences feature boating excursions? (Or require a short ferry ride to get from your room to the meeting hall?)

Last week, InterVarsity hosted the 2011 Midwest Faculty Conference at Cedar Campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s a beautiful place, as slideshows from the 2009 and 2010 conferences attest, and the conference intentionally makes space for both relaxation and intellectual engagement. (There is still space available at this year’s West Coast Faculty Conference, by the way. If Michigan isn’t your thing, how does Catalina Island sound?)

It’s a great conference, but not one that’s terribly well-known in either faculty or Christian circles. Imagine my surprise, then, when my friend Julie emailed me a link to a recently published article about the Faculty Conference from the journal Religion & Education. “Integrating Religious and Professional Identities: Christian Faculty at Public Institutions of Higher Education” by Christy Moran Craft, John D. Foubert, and Jessica Jelkin Lane is based on interviews with a dozen faculty who attended the 2008 conference and focuses on the question:

How do Christian faculty members integrate their religious identity with their professional identity within the public higher education environment? (95)

The researchers found three key themes emerging from their interviews. I think the paper itself is a great read, with a number of intriguing quotes from the faculty, so I’m only going to tell you about the first theme: a sense of calling.

Here’s one interviewee, a professor of microbiology:

God has called me to work at the university. I can have as much influence there as pastors can in a church, in a way. It sounds kind of mystical, but there’s that inner urging. I think even a non-Christian can understand that. There’s this desire, this goal, and that’s what God puts in people. That basically is what calls them to their profession or where they’re to be. (100)

This idea of “influence” can easily be misunderstood, so I found this sentence extremely helpful — and, for that matter, reflective of my own experience with Christian faculty:

The findings of this study support [Michael] Lindsay’s assertion that the desire of most Christian faculty is not to “take back” the country for their faith but simply to have their faith seen as reasonable, genuine, and attractive. (107, emphasis added)

I’d like to highlight one more quote. In the Emerging Scholars Network, we regularly discuss the tension between being open about one’s faith and the risks that poses to one’s career. See my colleague Tom Trevethan’s review of George Yancey’s Compromising Scholarship for an extended discussion of this topic. Craft, et al., found that their subjects were aware of this risk, yet viewed their religious identity as worth being seen as “out of sync”:

Given the lack of worldview fit with the prevailing values of public higher education, the attempts made by the Christian faculty participants in this study to integrate their religious identity with their professional identity reflect a conscious decision on their part to reject identity capital therein. The religious “calling” about which they spoke apparently supersedes their desire to maintain and/or to increase their individual identity capital within the public university environment. (106)

I recommend reading the whole thing. If you don’t have access through your institution, John Foubert has made the paper available via his profile. The bibliography, too, is a valuable resource for those of us interested in these issues. After you’ve read it, I hope that you’ll come back and share your thoughts.

Do you see the same key themes in your own understanding of your identity? If you’re at a public institution, how do you integrate your faith with your professional identity?

Citation: Craft, Christy Moran , Foubert, John D. and Lane, Jessica Jelkin (2011) ‘Integrating Religious and Professional Identities: Christian Faculty at Public Institutions of Higher Education’, Religion & Education, 38: 2, 92 — 110 (link)

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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    Joel commented on June 29, 2011 Reply

    Interesting article, but also very troubling. Academic integration and academic vocation is a major theme of the faculty ministry of Intervarsity’s faculty ministry, but a very select group of 12 faculty who attended a special conference on the topic of “the Application of the Gospel to Academic Life” essentially say that 1) They feel a spiritual calling to the faculty, 2) they can’t do much “overt communication of a Christian world view” (i.e., evangelism), and 3) they engage in “covert” integration of faith and scholarship.

    Implications are numerous. This is a “best-case” sample, given that their commitment level spurred them to attend this conference. And yet, even these Christians, who constitute a tiny minority of faculty at secular universities, are not engaged in much evangelism, which is very unfortunate given the well-publicized falling away from Christianity in this age group.

    I feel the article suffers terribly from a social-constructivist philosophy of identity, in which faculty struggle to integrate their “religious identity” with their “academic identity.” Although I understand that these are good social-science terms, the basic question of identity is settled for Christians. Identity is “who you are”—and it is not socially constructed at all. There is only one identity that lasts or matters—our identity how God sees us. This is our identity in Christ. “In Christ” appears over 80 times in the NT—clearly a theme of the NT. We are united with Christ and individually members of one another in the body of Christ.

      Micheal Hickerson commented on June 30, 2011 Reply

      Thanks, Joel, for reading the article and weighing in. Evangelism has been something that InterVarsity Faculty Ministry has been looking at for a couple of years because we strongly agree that 1) it’s a basic part of being a Christian and 2) it doesn’t seem to happen much among faculty. Part of the problem is an absence of good models – virtually all evangelism efforts on campus are directed toward students – and partly it has to do with the unique challenges of speaking to faculty about Jesus. Also, I wonder how many American Christians of any sort are doing any kind of evangelism among their coworkers and adult peers.

      John Foubert commented on July 17, 2011 Reply

      Hi Joel. I’m John Foubert, one of the authors of this article. I agree with much of what you wrote, and I am fairly certain that I agree with all of your sentiments. I too found our results troubling. I was deeply troubled that participants were so shockingly hesitant to share their faith and I fear for many of them about whether Christ will be be ashamed of them on judgment day. I hope that many of our participants experience spiritual growth, and quickly. Moreover, I hope that those who call themselves Christians on the faculty of college campuses speak more boldly and in unison that Christ is both Savior and Lord. As for the social constructivist issues, I agree with you that who we are in Christ is not socially constructed! We may indeed have suffered some from the method we chose being open to social contruction coming through — though that also revealed the perspectives of our participants, for better or worse. I found equally, if not more troubling findings in a study I just completed about students. More to come.

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