The World Won, Now What? The University in a Secular Age
Social science has had an enormous impact across the higher education, especially in areas which were previously relatively immune, such as religion and philosophy. Recent work on secularity by authors such as Charles Taylor and John Sommerville raises the issue of the purpose of higher education in a secular society. The influence of social science can be seen clearly in the works of philosophers such as William James, Dewey, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, and religious thinkers such as John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and John Milbank, among others. Taylor himself has said, regarding Puritan ideals, that “the world won,” and he recently in A Secular Age (2007) has sought to describe exactly how this social process in fact happened. Granted that we live in a secular age (in his third sense of “secular,” where societies are pluralistic), how should the university’s purpose be understood today? This itself is a question of social practice. A certain tone of nostalgia colors Taylor’s standpoint. “Retrieval -- at least as it is usually understood - is not a fruitful option. Instead, universities should represent the pluralistic realities of liberal democracy and the critical engagement with society illustrated by such Axial Age thinkers such as the Greek philosophers, the Hebrew prophets, and the Buddha. Even universities with an additional religious or nonreligious purpose would also need to be secular in Taylor’s third, pluralistic, sense. This ideal of higher education would include universities which wish to have programs that emphasize Evangelical, Catholic, Buddhist, Islamic, or nonreligious perspectives and studies, but it would exclude institutions which hold nonsecular ideals and promote bigotry, racism, exclusivism, and violence.
Keywords: Social, Practice, Secular, University
Dr. Leland Tyson Anderson
Professor, Religion and Philosophy, Saint Leo University