Political Tolerance and the Christian Campus

Political Tolerance and the Christian Campus April 16, 2019

When an academic attempts to land a job at a religiously based college or university, then he or she may run into a question that normally would be taboo to ask. That question is about his or her religious beliefs and practices. As a Christian academic who has interviewed at Christian schools, it does not surprise me to be asked about my religious beliefs or if I will attend church at a job interview. But I appreciate that this is part of the mission at the religious school, and if I were to obtain a position there, that I would have to abide by those sorts of expectations.

But my understanding of the unique challenges of a Christian school does not mean that I cannot see the downsides of this as well. While in theory one’s sociological ideas are not tied to one’s theological perspective, the reality is that our personal worldview is going to shape the scientific paradigms we use in our work. In other words, it is realistic to wonder if by hindering non-believers from joining the academic community within a college or university if one is also limiting the potential of that community to do real research. The scientific method requires disinterestness in the results, and having a theological bias among researchers may threaten that assumption within Christian colleges and universities.

This issue has not gone unnoticed. Indeed a few years ago one scholar argued that perhaps we should not allow religious schools to have accreditation since they are not open to scholars who do not subscribe to the religious creed of the school. While there is not yet a widespread movement to support this idea, I have heard academics dismiss religious schools because of their theological exclusiveness. I have no doubt that some of the graduates from such schools suffer from this loss of reputation.

But my experience is that it is not merely religious schools that may have ideological insularity. A while back I wrote about education dogma. I outlined several political positions that were taken as true and where oppositional opinion was not allowed. In many ways academics treated contrary arguments to the tenets of education dogma as heresy. It is not unlike the resistance of many religious individuals to challenges to their faith.

Christian schools may not tolerate theological questions, but if non-Christian schools do not tolerate political questions, then are Christian schools really any guiltier of violating the scientific ideal of disinterestness? Well the big word in that statement is “if.” My experiences of observing education dogma does not serve as sufficient evidence that we have a problem on non-sectarian campuses. So we need data to fully assess this possibility.

And that is what I and my co-authors (Laurel Shaler and Jerald Walz) found in our newest book. We looked at the evidence concerning political tolerance using five different sets of data. We used information from a survey of academics, records of political contributions by college, an assessment of political science textbooks, some of my old work on academic bias, and FIRE‘s list of campus disinvitations.

What we found was fairly consistent with the notion that non-sectarian colleges and universities have less political tolerance than conservative Protestant colleges and universities. No single data set is convincing all by itself. But together they certainly suggests that while religious schools weed out ideas and individuals with a theological focus, that non-religious schools do the same thing with a political focus.

If we are to believe, as I do, that having theological agreement among researchers may inhibit their ability to make certain scientific discoveries, then should we also not believe the same about political agreement? In fact, I would argue that political agreement produces a greater danger of ideological conformity in scholarly research. Except in religion and philosophical departments, neither of which would be considered a science, we rarely directly test theological propositions. However, work in most of the social sciences have some political implications. Thus it is more likely for scholarly work to be directly impacted by political bias than theological bias.

My point is not that we should overlook bias in a religious setting. My point is that bias is not limited to religious settings. Indeed, the propensity of some academics towards overconfidence in their own objectivity can lead to real problems in their conduction of research. A healthy skepticism of all research, no matter if that work is shaped by a religious or political bias, is the proper stance that scholars should take.

"I recall - some years ago now - when that "getting into the canoe" stunt ..."

Wokeness and Legalism
"Yeah we blacks only had our families ripped apart by whites and our women rapped. ..."

When Hollywood and Big Business Attack
"Interesting use of the word "attack". And by "interesting", I mean staggeringly dishonest."

When Hollywood and Big Business Attack
"LGBTQ suicide and homelessness appear to be tied to rejection by one's own family, usually ..."

When Hollywood and Big Business Attack

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Joslyn Renfrey

    I agree! We should let people question the accepted death toll of the holocaust in academia!

    • Joslyn Renfrey

      As an addendum, questioning the death toll of the holocaust is one of the easier tells for crypto-nazi bullsheet, so there are reasons why we can’t allow certain things to be criticised.

    • georgeyancey

      I allow this first comment to be generous. But since I know of NO conservative academic who is seriously questioning the death toll of the Holocaust the second comment is simply demeaning. If you want to show us conservative academics, and by that I mean people with real credentials, questioning the Holocaust then by all means do so. Otherwise move on.

      • Joslyn Renfrey

        Well, for one thing I bring up the point of holocaust revisionism that there should be nobody, of any political persuasion or of any educational level who should be allowed to express the view, in academic spaces (including colleges and universities) that the death toll of the holocaust was exaggerated, and as such, there exist concepts for which we have very good reasons that criticism toward them cannot be tolerated.

        However, I can label a few credentialed historians who have engaged in holocaust and genocide revisionism. It is unknown whether they would self-identify as conservatives, but as I’ve said, that is not the point. I have taken these from wikipedia, and as such, these are only the prominent examples:
        Ernst Nolte
        Arno J. Mayer
        Bernard Lewis (Armenian Genocide)
        Justin McCarthy (Armenian Genocide)

        • georgeyancey

          All academic questions should be on the table. The evidence of the holocaust is so overwhelming that I do not fear the occasional nutjob who argues otherwise. I think my willingness to engage is a big difference between me and the woke folks who like to deplatform to avoid unpleasant facts and ideas. But as I stated this is not a tenet of conservative academics and thus bringing it up in this context is merely a strawman.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            So if Richard B. Spencer wanted to host a talk at your university about the evidence for the holocaust, you would accept him?

          • georgeyancey

            Yes because people like you equate those who wear MAGA hats to Richard Spencer. If we start with Spencer then pretty soon nobody to the right of the latest version of Identity politics would be allowed to speak on campus. Now he, and anyone, has to be invited by some on campus student or academic group but if they do so then yeah I would allow it and then show how stupid his ideas are.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            What if he wanted to talk about the benefits of creating a white ethnostate?

          • georgeyancey

            I am not afraid enough of his ideas that they cannot be challenged. And before you talk about how we cannot provide a cretin like him a platform do you really think he cannot get his vile ideas out without being on a campus? Indeed trying to suppress him makes him a victim in some people opinions and even helps him get his ideas out.
            I heard a while back that Charles Barkley got into a debate with Spencer and embarrassed him. Charles Barkley!!! If he can embarrassed Spencer then certainly I, or any professor can. We need to stop being afraid of these people and confront them in ways that really hurts and not makes them some sort of victim
            Finally, as I should end this convo and grade paper, everything must be on the table or we cease doing science. If Spencer’s ideas are as bankrupt as I know they are research will bear that out. But we can only trust that research if we made an honest assessment of the claims. Spencer’s claptrap about white superiority does not hold up when we look at the real causes of the advanced economies of European countries. Nor does it hold up when we look at the failings of those countries as well. Why would I pass up the chance to show him up and give him a video being punched or deplatformed so that he can demonize people like me? I won’t do that and if he ever comes to university I work at I relish the chance to show him up.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            For a debate to be made in good faith, there must be the possibility
            that one’s stance can be changed, or at least, the audiences. Do you think there is the possibility that he could convince you, in some part, of the efficacy of creating a white ethnostate?

          • I suppose he’d have to have new arguments, beyond those already published and discredited, which are persuasive and do not rest on discredited information or axioms.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            Sometimes people just want an excuse to justify hidden attitudes, rather than hearing well made arguments.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    From the abstracts of the books linked, it appears you consider non-religious educational establishments “intolerant” because their faculty staff tend to be disproportionately left wing. Do you have any actual evidence this is because they are systematically excluding right wing academics from employment, or are you just throwing up a “tu quoque” smokescreen for express and deliberate religious discrimination by Christian colleges?
    I also note the (right-wing funded) FIRE organisations “disinvitations” database you link to has it about 50:50 for (actual as opposed to “unsuccesful”) left / right wing exclusions, which if you are right that US colleges and universities are in fact predominantly left wing would mean, in fact, that universities in general are either no more blocking right wing speakers than left, regardless of their own political affiliation, or that the small number of right wing / religious colleges are disproportionately excluding more speakers.
    In a (admittedly fairly small) random sample, it also appears that most disinvitations of speakers for being too left wing come from the institution itself, whereas a suspiciously high proportion of right wing speakers’ “disinvitations” actually consist of disruptions or protests by students.
    In other words, I’m calling utter BS on university bias or discrimination against right-leaning academics: you’re making it up.

    • georgeyancey

      Always fund having someone criticize my work without even reading it. Do not know where you got the 50/50 number. You must be a genius since we had to code and calculate the percentages of the FIRE index and it is much different than your calculation. Tell you what. I will take my numbers until I see your calculations okay?
      As to bias I have done a entire book on this subject and I am backed by other research (Inbar and Lammars) that document the bias as well. Academics overtly say they are biased against political conservatives and are less willing to allow them to get published or grants. There is even systematic data against social conservatives. I have written blogs on this if you do not want to read the research but you are embarrassing yourself by resorting to just “I made it up.”
      Next time you decide to critique academic work please at least read it first or read other work on the subject. It will enable me to take you more seriously.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        It doesn’t take a genius to use FIRE’s own filter tool.
        193 total disinvitations where “successful” = “yes”.
        103 of those where “from the right or left of speaker” is “from the left”.
        It took me 5 minutes.
        Presumably it takes much longer if you are trying to make the evidence say something else from what it plainly is.
        I don’t think much of your ability to do academic research, frankly, if that is too complicated for you.

        • georgeyancey

          WIth your criteria, there were only 66 successful disinvitations from the right. Let’s see. 103+66 = 169. 103/169 = 60.9%. Not 50%. We have a 60/40 split in politically motivated disinvitations. You are right. It does not take a genuies to figure this stuff out. But clearly you are not able to do so.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            Fair dos, I didn’t realise “N/A” was an option: I assumed all the ones not from the left would be from the right.
            Still, since by your own argument way more than 60% of colleges are left leaning, it still remains the case that either left leaning colleges are disinviting both the extreme left as well as the extreme right in not widely divergent numbers, or right leaning colleges still disinvite proportionately substantially more speakers.
            Also, having had a little more time to look at detail I notice that of a dozen random “from the left” disinvitations I looked at, all bar two were either “disinvited” in the sense that they were substantially disrupted by student protests or disinvited by the institution after student protests, while of the 10 or so “from the right” the majority were disinvited by the institution either on its own initiative or because of outside organisations or bodies applying pressure. This does not support your case that the faculties of institutions are excluding speakers due to anti conservative bias, though would support the notion of left wing bias among the students, which is undoubtedly the case.
            Edit: I have now discovered the “advanced search” facility on the website. It turns out that 54 of all the 193 disinvitations covered were from private religious institutions, over a quarter, despite them being a tiny minority of all colleges. Also, 35 “disinvitations” from the left of the speaker were “substantial event disruption” (I.e. not a disinvitation from the institution itself at all) as opposed to 4 from the right, putting figures for actual disinvitations from left and right at 68 and 62 respectively, so we’re back to level pegging.

          • georgeyancey

            Dude. I am not going to waste any time with this after this comment. I do not have to torture the data to draw a desired conclusion. I mean “substantial event disruptions. lol.. I used a criteria of Carnegie Doctoral Universities to denote elite schools and in those schools speaker disinvitations came from the left almost 70% of the time. Of course this and other information is in the book. Once again you do not know what you are talking about because you have criticized without reading the book. I understand that you have not had a chance to see the book yet but neither do you need to comment on something you have not seen. It does not make for a useful discussion.

  • Alfred the Great

    A medieval peasant living in the shadow of the Inquisition had more freedom of thought and speech than the typical American college student today. There is censorship (“speech codes”) and online “bias incident report forms” on which students and employees are urged to report (anonymously) any “bias incidents” they encounter. Students are free to speak their minds – unless, of course, they dissent from the liberal orthodoxy, in which case they will be charged with “hate speech.” Needless to say, it is very sad watching the “Christian” colleges copy what the secular ones are doing. This past week some students from Taylor U, formerly a bastion of evangelicalism, claimed they were “shaking” at the prospect of a Christian, Vice-President Pence, speaking at their commencement. At this point, is there really any serious difference between Christian secular universities – other than the name?