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Prayer on the Syllabus: Faith and Education Can Work Together

Let the kids learn. They’ll find faith. God has a way of showing up in the curriculum.

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Worried about what happens to your kids’ faith when away at college? My youngest is back in school and I’m not fretting about his spiritual growth even if he is on an “anything goes” sort of campus that forgot its church affiliation years ago.

First of all, there’s always exam time. Face the experience of a really grueling final in something like orgo chemistry—for me it was economics—and you’ll discover prayer. Real fast. 

I’m not completely joking. I was a confirmed atheist when I arrived on campus at one of those big Eastern Ivy League institutions. I left an intellectually curious, passionate Christian. What happened? Was it the dorm-room Bible studies? Was it my evangelical, physics major roommate? Was it the non-mandatory chapel services? Nope.

It was Dante and Shakespeare and Chaucer and maybe some Dostoyevsky. It was having professors—subversive Christians perhaps—who made me look at what great writers were saying. It was a lecture on the medieval cathedral. It was singing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It was reading the poetry of the King James Bible—I’m still a sucker for it.

I was interested to read an article by Paul Raushenbush, the current dean of religious life at my alma mater, Princeton, where he talks about the influence of a pluralistic campus on a student’s spiritual life. Sure, I remember going to my first Seder in college or hearing a friend, challenged on why he went to church, exclaim, “Actually I was born and raised a Hindu.” All those late-night gab sessions about what people believed made a difference, but even without them, God still crept onto the syllabus.

Not so long ago, my agnostic son called me with great enthusiasm. “Dad, we were reading the Gospel of Mark and I realized the whole point of faith is that you have to accept some things on faith.” 

“Yeah, that’s right,” I said.

And why was he reading Mark? For a history class.

Let the kids learn. They’ll find faith. It might be a prayer during a test (by some miracle I passed Econ 101). But in a good liberal arts education, faith drops in. God has a way of showing up in the curriculum.       

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