The Corner

Religion At University of Chicago

The mail from yesterday’s posts on the University of Chicago seemed to center around the problems of the elephant and the glass. How you feel about the direction of the university depends a lot on which part of the elephant you’re touching. To libertarian leaning economists, the elephant feels pretty conservative. In many of the other social sciences, the elephant seems fairly uniformly leftist. Of course, the same is true at many universities. Then there’s the glass half full/half empty problem. One correspondent pointed to Jean Bethke Elshtain at the Divinity School as evidence that conservative scholars have a real presence at Chicago. A couple of other correspondent’s bemoaned the Divinity school as a place where actual believers are isolated and put upon by progressive skeptics. One of these pointed to Elshtain as the exception that proves the rule, arguing that she is in some respects marginalized. Here’s an interesting letter from a religious student with both an upside and a downside: “I completed an MA in social sciences at Chicago last year. If it’s not enemy territory, I don’t know what is. None of my friends were practicing any religion. Most were atheist or agnostic. Many were staunch followers of Saskia Sassen- in fact, she was their raison d’etre there. I can count the number of conservatives in my cohort on one hand. I think it was at a Paul Griffiths lecture that I realized something was deeply awry. A former U of C prof, now at UIC, Griffiths was speaking at the Div School on the benefit of having faith when teaching about… faith. The reaction was spectacular. As former colleagues could only spittle their disgust for this convert (he somehow found faith there and became a Catholic), he deftly handled them much as I would imagine C.S. Lewis handling atheists after a reading of Mere Christianity. There were walkouts. At the end of the year, one administrator whispered her faith to me, hoping I didn’t deride her. When I told her I’m a practicing Catholic, she rejoiced, and then told me her boss always teased her about her “superstitions.” I found one bright spot: the Catholic campus ministry, the Calvert House, run by Fr. Mike Yakaitis. A man with his theology doctorate, he can intellectually run with the big dogs. He’s unusually (for a university) orthodox, which has won a following: he had to expand beyond his normal four masses a weekend to six this year, with an incredible freshman turnout. Not all hope is lost.”


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