Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stephanie Paulsell on Christian Humanism

Anyone who reads this blog or follows the array of articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed know that there is a so-called "crisis in the humanities."  In June, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences made this crisis abundantly clear in its report, "The Heart of the Matter."

Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard Divinity School is aware of the crisis and has made a compelling argument that churches have the potential of helping to relieve it.  Here is a taste of her recent piece in the Christian Century:

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ report urges us to reclaim our human inheritance by supporting the humanities and committing to literacy. We Christians can contribute to this project—after all, reading, critical thinking and creativity are part of our Christian inheritance. As we read, we can make sure that we listen for a verse that strikes a deep chord, collect the sentences that sparkle, and hold them up to each other’s light, letting each illuminate the other.

In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf describes the gift of the artist as the capacity to “choose out the elements of things and place them together,” making of these bits and pieces “a globed compacted thing, over which thought lingers and love plays.” This is our work as Christians too. Congregations do this when they gather for worship. Preachers do it when they write a sermon. Is this practice shareable across the boundaries of religion? How might we contribute to the strengthening of these humanistic practices both in our faith communities and beyond?

Paulsell is absolutely correct.  Spiritual disciplines have a deeply humanistic dimension to them.  I would even go a step further.  As I argue in my forthcoming (September) Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, churches can be spaces for humanistic reflection on matters related to literature, history, philosophy, etc....  While I realize that the primary purpose of congregations is to promote the Kingdom of God and bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world, they can also, secondarily, be spaces where Christian intellectual life can flourish.

Pastors:  what are you doing to teach your congregations to worship God with their minds?