Professional Development & Research
Book Review: The Integration of Faith and Learning: A Worldview Approach, by Robert A. HarrisIn recent years, much has been made of how contemporary America is deeply divided by competing views of the world.The keen historical analysis and compelling social critique of scholars like Gertrude Himmelfarb and Robert P. George have established with some clarity the contours of this cultural faultline. One challenge of Christian higher education is to engage students within this atmosphere of great cultural division with the truth of the Christian faith. Some students will come to us with firmly established views of diverging opinion. As educators, we do well to challenge opinions in such a way that it moves our students to more thoughtful dialogue rooted in reason and logic. Tragically, far too many of our students are more complacent than opinionated. We also do well when we confront the complacency of our students so they are prepared to engage the world with transformational action.
Robert Harris' The Integration of Faith and Learning provides a new tool to assist Christian educators in their task of moving students beyond opinion and complacency.This book, as a guide for Christian students, will help them pursue their education in a more holistic fashion. It explains how they can intentionally apply the Christian worldview as the integrative system in all their learning. Institutions of higher education committed to faith integration should consider making this book required reading for all undergraduates. It could be useful in some well designed freshman experience programs. Because it may be difficult in places for studentswith little or no background philosophical questions this reviewer recommends its use in introductory disciplinary courses, seminars designed as gateways to the major, and liberal arts capstone courses. The book includes some special features to facilitate its usefulness. Each chapter concludes with a brief summary and some questions to aid in discussion. In addition to the plentiful notes at the end of each chapter, there is an appendix of useful web sites and a very good bibliography leading the reader to other helpful sources.
In the opening two chapters of his book, Harris provides an introduction to the task of faith integration and its importance in higher education.Then, in chapters 3 & 4, Harris examines the concept of knowledge and socio-political influences on its operation.The heart of the book is found in chapters 5 through 8 where worldview is defined and the two current dominant worldviews oftoday's academy are compared with the Christian worldview. In these chapters, Harris argues that only the Christian worldview provides adequate grounding for a comprehensive and consistent concept of knowledge. The concluding four chapters offer some very helpful practical guidelines to help students critically evaluate worldview and integrate faith into their scholarship.
Harris sees much ofthe current academy locked in a struggle between two competing ways of knowing: modernism and postmodernism. In this academic arena most teaching and research is based upon philosophical assumptions which neglect or dismiss transcendent knowledge.Harris develops an approach to integrated Christian scholarship that is a kind of third way of intellectual pursuit; one that critically challenges some of the underlying assumptions of both dominant systems. For him, faith and learning are fully compatible. As he puts it, "The process of integrating faith and learning allows faith to support and clarify learning, and at the same time allows learning to support and clarify faith." This ought to be the goal of any institution of higher education that seeks to promulgate the great intellectual tradition of Christendom.
That tradition has historically challenged great philosophical ideas with a concept of objective truth deeply rooted in both faith and reason. It is the tradition that empowered Dietrich Bonhoeffer to challenge the thinking that supported the evil regime of Nazi Germany. It is the tradition that gave impetus to Pope John Paul II in his struggles against the repressive forces of communism. The Integration of Faith and Learning will be an indispensable tool for Christian higher education to further this tradition by helping educate students that think critically, hope eternally, and care enough.
Steven L. Baker, Associate VP for Academic Resources & Library DirectorUnion UniversitySeptember 30, 2004