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 academia.edu 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)