WFU to Host Conference on Religion & Higher Education

Wait Chapel Wake Forest University will host the Lilly Endowment’s national Baptist meeting on religion and higher education, uniting representatives of 15 different Southeastern colleges and universities in an examination of the place of religion in their campuses’ academic and cultural lives amid declining denominational loyalty and other significant shifts in how Americans worship.

Seven college presidents are among those who will attend the Oct. 23-24 conference and continue discussions back at their 15 campuses: Wake Forest, Chowan College, Meredith College, Mars Hill College, Wingate College, Gardner-Webb University and Campbell University in North Carolina; Samford University in Alabama; Mercer University and Shorter College in Georgia; Carson-Newman College in Tennessee; Averett College and the University of Richmond in Virginia; and Furman University and Anderson College in South Carolina.

“We really ask how do private church-related schools discuss, debate and nurture religious ideas and practice toward the 21st century,” said Bill J. Leonard, the meeting’s director and dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity — a new seminary opening in 1999 at a university that itself reflects America’s changing religious landscape. Founded in 1834 by the Baptist State Convention, Wake Forest became autonomous in governance in 1986 and educates students representing many of the world’s religions.

Acknowledging this diversity, Wake Forest’s new divinity school will be Baptist in heritage, Christian by tradition and ecumenical in outlook, training men and women to serve congregations from many different denominations. Half of their classes will be taught by professors from the university at large.

How to prepare students to live out lives of faith amid increased pluralism will be one of the central themes of the Wake Forest conference and five others Lilly is funding at American campuses.

Leonard said that Mercer is sending the entire membership of a new steering committee established to explore the role of religion in education at the Georgia university.

The conference at Wake Forest and the other Lilly meetings on American campuses are based on the study and book, “Models for Christian Higher Education,” by Pepperdine University professor Richard Hughes and former Pepperdine provost William Adrian.

The study and book reviewed how 14 different Catholic and protestant colleges and universities tried to maintain their religious heritage in changing times.

Participants of the conference at Wake Forest are required to read “Models for Christian Higher Education,” send key leaders to the conference, and continue discussions back on their campuses.

“The goal of these conferences is to explore ways schools can live out their faith traditions,” Hughes said. “The clear trend has been the marginalization of religion so the key question is, ‘How could it be possible to continue to grow as a fine institution and still claim that heritage?’ and whether that still is possible.”

In addition to Hughes and Adrian, the Wake Forest conference will feature plenary lectures by Sister Alice Gallin, a visiting scholar at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., who will share insights from the Catholic tradition; Tom Christiansen, professor of religion at Capital University, a Lutheran school in Columbus, Ohio.; and Samuel Hill, professor emeritus of religion at the University of Florida, who will talk about how America’s changing religious landscape is affecting academia. Hill’s lecture, at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, and Christiansen’s lecture, at 8:30 a.m., Friday, Oct. 24, will be in Pugh Auditorium. Both are open to the public. Individual workshops and discussion groups are closed to the public.

Wake Forest is hosting the Lilly conference as part of its 1997-98 Year of Religion in American Life, which includes special classes on religious themes, monthly visits by scholars from different faiths, a film series, guest speakers, a symposium on religion and the media, and a “Book of Days” featuring daily writings by students, faculty and staff on matters of faith and life.

Wake Forest will re-examine its own Baptist heritage immediately following the Lilly conference in a faculty colloquium moderated by Margaret Zulick, associate professor of communication. The colloquium, in the old law library of Carswell Hall, is from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, and is open to members of the Wake Forest community (Note clarification). Registration is required. Contact Zulick at (910) 758-6121.

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