The Vocation of a Lutheran College

What does it mean to be a Lutheran college?  What does it mean to teach, study, work, live at a Lutheran college?  How might it be distinctive from other colleges or universities?  Does the Lutheran tradition offer anything distinctive to address contemporary challenges in higher education?

This week I’m heading to Minneapolis for the Vocation of a Lutheran College Conference, held on the campus of Augsburg College, where we will engage these and other questions.  The conference is an annual gathering of staff, faculty, and administrators from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 26 colleges and universities, and I’ve served on its planning committee for the past four years.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Vocation: A Challenge to the Commodification of Education.”  As the conference description says:

“We will explore the uniqueness and value of education for/as vocation in a climate where profitability, careerism, and the commodification of education increasingly dictate expectations of students, pedagogical practices, and institutional decisions.”

The presentations given at this annual conference are typically published in subsequent months in Intersections, and here are the papers from 2012 when the theme was sustainability and environmental stewardship as part of the purpose and calling of a Lutheran college.  And, here is Adam Copeland’s reflections after that conference, highlighting some of the kinds of conversations that the gathering sparked.

Though I do not teach at a Lutheran college, I am a product of one as well as a Lutheran scholar working my twelfth year in higher education where many of the questions and challenges we confront are similar.  It’s not an accident, then, that this theme of commodification and the marketplace has found its way into several other professional meetings of mine this year.  How will this old fashioned thing of a residential college or university with its outdated modes of educating people in a classroom, with books (even paper ones!) and discussions survive?!

I look forward to several days of conversations about how we respond to our common challenges and what the Lutheran tradition of higher education has to offer that is a distinctive gift in the 21st century.


About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.