Home/Rod Dreher/Where Are The Conservative Academic Theologians?

Where Are The Conservative Academic Theologians?

Fordham’s Michael Peppard considers the dearth of conservatives in his profession. One reason, he says, is that the conservative approach to theology runs counter to the mission of the contemporary university. Excerpt:

For better or worse, I do not think most academic theologians in current conditions regard their primary job to be the reception of doctrine as a “deposit” or “gift” and the transmission of it to the next generation. At a research university especially, transmitting received knowledge may be a function of introductory classes, but the rest of one’s job description (upper-level classes; graduate education; publishing) lies elsewhere. That is to say, academic theology shares a similar model for research as the rest of the university: one must consistently produce new knowledge about the world; the process of double-blind peer review is the gold standard; notions of scientific repeatability in analysis are also applied to the “data” of theology and religion. Theology as done in the university is usually investigative, exploratory, and boundary-pushing. If a pre-tenure professor does not have those qualities to some significant degree, the chances of tenure and promotion are low. One might criticize here that I’m describing the modus operandi only of the “R1” universities, but those departments are the primary source of the Ph.D.’s who populate smaller colleges and thus spread the research culture.

For another, Peppard says that conservatives are temperamentally disinclined to choose academia, for reasons Jonathan Haidt could explain. To thrive in academia, Peppard says, you have to be willing to question tradition to a certain extent, and be satisfied with raising your family on a lot less money than you would make in another profession. There are, therefore, reasons of moral and emotional orientation that discourage conservatives from going into academia — this, aside from the fact (conceded by Peppard) that the liberal academy at times discourages conservatives from entry.

Read the whole thing. I’m interested to hear from academic theologians in the readership, to see if you agree.

I wonder to what extent this dynamic applies to journalism, a profession with which I am more familiar, and which also attracts a disproportionate number of liberals. There’s no question that the environment within the profession is generally hostile to conservatives, but I don’t think that can account for the whole situation.

I think that succeeding in journalism requires a high degree of questioning authorities and institutions, and that liberals are in general more predisposed to do that. The problem with this is that newsroom liberals are in general highly disinclined to question their own assumptions. But when the majority of people around you share those basic assumptions about how the world works, it’s easy to believe yourself a crusading truth-teller, when in fact you are far more selective than you realize. Every newsroom has sacred cows. Every one. The inability to or unwillingness of newsroom liberals to recognize their own biases and confront them is a perpetual thorn in the side of newsroom conservatives.

It does seem to me as well that there’s something about a young conservative that doesn’t like journalism as journalism. In my limited experience, many young conservatives have internalized the culture of media critique so deeply that they see journalism as nothing more than an ideological battleground. It’s good to be aware of the way ideology can shape, and distort, the truth, but it’s hard to see how someone learns the patience to develop the skills that enable them to be a good journalist if one sees the profession as inherently corrupt. Consider how hard it would be for an idealistic liberal to become a skilled banker if he was deeply skeptical about the entire profession of banking. Fair or not, conservatives in our time tend to see journalists as the bad guys, in the same way liberals tend to see bankers and corporate executives as the bad guys. In both cases, the truth is far more complex than ideology allows for, but that emotional disposition towards these two professions may explain why people choose to go into one kind of job, and not another.

This is all just speculation. What do you think?




about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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