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The Thomist 63 (1999): 643-53 THE DYING OF THE UGHT AND THE CONTEMPORARY CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY LARRY S. CHAPP Allentown College ofSt. Francis de Sales Center Valley, Pennsylvania JAMES BURTCHAELL has provided us with one of those rare texts that combine a magisterial breadth of research with a literary style that is at once brilliant and breezy.1 Its main contention is that America's religiously affiliated colleges and universities have slowly succumbed to the forces of liberal secularity and now only barely resemble the institutions their founding Churches and religious orders had in mind. And with the controversy surrounding the Vatican's 1990 document on Catholic higher education, Ex corde Ecclesiae, the text is also perfectly timed to contribute significantly to a heated contemporary debate. Love it or hate it, this book is destined for a wide dissemination and therefore merits careful consideration. The text is primarily an exercise in historical reconstruction. Burtchaell provides the reader with thickly described histories of seventeen colleges and universities (fourteen Protestant and three Catholic) that are presented as paradigmatic examples of a more generalized collapse of religious culture in academia. He peppers his description with his own trenchant analysis of where things "wentwrong." This is not a dispassionate and detached recitation of value-neutral historical "facts"; Burtchaell is frequently dismissive of those individuals within the academy that he deems responsible for what he clearly considers to be a negative historical slide from institutional religious commitment to the blandness 1 James Tunstead Burtchaell, The Dying ofthe Light: The DisengagementofColleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), xx + 868 pp. $45.00. 643 644 LARRY S. CHAPP of secular homogeneity. Burtchaell does not attempt to 'prove' that religiously affiliated colleges and universities have become secularized. He simply accepts it as a given and then proceeds to lay bare the historical story of how it came about. Those who share this negative assessment of the state of religion on the modern campus will welcome Burtchaell's pointed remarks. For example, while discussing the often-repeated bromide of Jesuit university presidents that one can maintain the Catholic identity of a university with only a small "critical mass" of Catholics among the faculty he states: "The problem is that instead of a critical mass they have a landfill, and an apparently endless supply of its natural product, methane gas" (632). Strangely, however, one never gets the sense that Burtchaell's strongly held convictions cloud his historical analysis. Indeed, his passion is fetching and the analysis he presents seems clarified by his convictions rather than muddied. Thus his own methodology in the writing of this text serves to underline one of its central affirmations: faith and knowledge should not be divorced from one another and kept, dualistically, in separate gnoseological compartments. The Enlightenment's bifurcation ofall knowledge into two types-the objective and "neutral" knowledge gained through reason and the subjective and "biased" knowledge gained through religion and affectivity-is precisely the problem. Burtchaell 's counterargument is a strong and unapologetic reaffirmation that the faith commitment of the Christian brings an intellectual advantage through the fusing together of knowledge and the moral universe created by the Christian claim. One need not repeat the well-rehearsed sociological and philosophical critiques of the Enlightenment's naive, univocal view of "rationality ." Burtchaell does not aver to these critiques directly but his central thesis seems to assume that knowledge motivated and organized by moral commitment is superior to knowledge that has been trivialized by its moral vacuity and pseudo-detachment from all "non-academic" loyalties. He does not hide his disapproval , therefore, for presidents ofreligiously affiliated colleges who will acknowledge the importance of the connection between learning and moral commitment on a whole range of secular 1HE DYING OF 1HE LIGHT 645 issues, while keeping the religious identity of the institution at a safe distance from anything vitally important. Burtchaell is, moreover, a careful historian and he is quick to nuance his criticism of particular individuals with a detailed analysis of the broad sociological forces that have driven the secularization process. The causes of the disaffection of universities from their religious identities are complex and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 643-653
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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