Consider No Evil: Two Faith Traditions and the Problem of Academic Freedom in Religious Higher Education
Brandon G. Withrow and Menachem Wecker
Cascade Books, July 10, 2014
Cover: “The Death of Socrates” (Jacques-Louis David, 1787)
Higher education within religious institutions can be notorious for bumping into faith-limitations. Professors and students can face difficult roadblocks in the advancement of their fields, particularly when research and discoveries challenge the theological commitments of their communities. From the perspective of those outside of a religious community, these may appear as arbitrary limitations imposed on the pursuit of knowledge out of superstition. From the inside, the progress of knowledge is only advanced by maintaining certain theological absolutes that are necessary for understanding a world made by God.
But what happens when the outside world challenges the inside world of professors and students within religious schools? What if the pursuit of knowledge calls into question key, unifying beliefs of a community? Faculty may be forced to limit the quality and creativity of their contributions to their fields and, as a result, students may be short-changed, unaware of the tools and information needed for success in their future careers. In some cases, professors lose the support of colleagues for their research or even their positions. Students can face bias that affects their grades or future references, and feel ostracized by their peers who maintain the community faith-standard.
The community may find itself divided.
In our book we will explore the nature of education within religious institutions, the limitations drawn by their faith commitments, and offer possible solutions. Globalization and thriving social media provide greater access for professors and students to a world of ideas and differing beliefs. This new world demands greater risks within religious communities who wish to avoid isolationism. An education that is fixed is folly, but can a community open to anything keep its identity? Is there really such as a thing as academic freedom within a religious community?
“When students ask me about truth, I always send them to the religion department. In the future I will point them to Consider No Evil, a work that has contrived successfully to carry water on both shoulders. This is an important book, well written, thoughtfully providing an insider’s view of historically private institutions. I recommend it for students of higher education in both secular and religious institutions.”
~ Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, University Professor and Emeritus President, The George Washington University
“Consider No Evil is a gift to scholars, clergy, and students alike. It provides historical, social, and personal context to clarify the thorny issues surrounding academic freedom at religious institutions of higher learning. With great nuance and insight, Withrow and Wecker promote transparency and forthrightness as a means of avoiding tension between scholars and their institutions.”
~ Joshua Stanton, Assistant Rabbi, Temple B’nai Jeshurun, New Jersey
“In Consider No Evil, Withrow and Wecker act as spiritual guides in the complex, fraught, and persistently influential world of religious education. Using their own orthodox religious training as a springboard, the authors start a much-needed conversation on the tension inherent in the religious goal of transmission of tradition and the educational goal of the unobstructed search for truth. Consider No Evil should be required reading for all who study, teach, or preach within the hallowed halls of seminaries, yeshivas, and divinity schools.”
~ Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor, The Huffington Post