Riley, Naomi Schaefer. 2005. God on the quad: how religious colleges and the missionary generation are changing America. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Naomi Schaefer is a well known writer who graduated from Harvard, who graduated magna cum laude in 1998 and has been the recipient of numerous literary awards. Her account of the “missionary generation” refers to the graduates of religious colleges, as distinct from their secular counterparts.

Riley is concerned if religious higher education makes the communities insular or whether the students graduating from them will influence non–religious (even anti–religious) attitudes that prevail in our secular institutions.

Riley discusses six colleges in particular (Brigham Young, Bob Jones, Notre Dame, Thomas Aquinas, Yeshiva, and Baylor), but a number of others in a more general manner (Wheaton, Gordon, Westmont, Calvin, Ave Maria School of Law, Christendom, Regent University, Harvard, Patrick Henry College, Southern Virginia University, Touro College, and others) from the 20 that she visited. In passing she refers to additional colleges from a list of 700 ‘religious’ ones. She also provides a list of the schools that she visited and that are mentioned in the book – two are Mormon, seven Catholic, five are evangelical (nondenominational), one Baptist, one Reformed, one Fundamentalist (BJU), one Buddist, and two Jewish. Interestingly, she makes no mention at all of Biola U.

Riley is interested in the academic qualifications of the students and staff of the schools, but she also addresses issues like academic freedom, affirmative action and minorities, co–ed dormitories and the sexual problems that they promote, drugs, alcohol, dating , honor codes, politics and feminism. In one way or another every college has problems and challenges associated with such issue.

Riley calls the students at the schools the ‘missionary generation’ because of their religious affiliations and their desire for a spiritual component to their education. Her conclusion is that the students challenge the general stereotype by not experimenting with sex or drugs, they dress modestly and they study hard, and then become professionals in the cultural and political centers of the country. These schools “aim to give their students… the tools to succeed in the secular world and the strength to do so without compromising their faith” (p. 9).

Riley’s book addresses a set of four questions: (1) Why have students chosen the school? (Short answer {It is not your answer, Karl, but rather her answer in shortended form by you.}: They want to integrate their faith and learning.) (2) How is the curriculum different from that of secular schools? (Answer: There is emphasis on religious subjects.) (3) What is life outside the classroom like? (Answer: Students tend to have a more conservative lifestyle than their secular cousins.) and (4) How will these colleges affect students’ post–graduation choices? (Answer: Employers seek students from such schools because of their ethics.)

Brigham Young University is described as “an oasis in the desert,” where conservative (Republican, patriotic, non–drinking, pro–life, etc.) church students have high GPAs and graduate to become involved in secular jobs. It is a very in–grown university and community that gives the Mormon church members who are students a low tuition rate. In 2007, according the BYU website, there were 32,964 students (full time and part time) at the school.

Bob Jones, on the other hand, was once depicted as representing everything wrong with the rural South – racist, backward, and intolerant. Most students expect to become ministers or missionaries, or have some part–time vocation in fundamental, conservative churches. Riley was surprised at the low tuition rates, the ban on TV and contemporary music, the chaperoned dating, and the lack of accreditation. Nevertheless, the students find jobs fairly easily because outside agencies recognize the quality of their education. She speaks highly of their drama and art departments.

Notre Dame is Catholic, yet liberal in terms of its curriculum and what often goes on among the student body at the university. Although the faculty is over 50% Catholic, “Notre Dame does not ask candidate for faculty appointments how their religious worldview affects the way they approach their discipline. Rather, they just check off a box that identifies them as Catholic” (p. 57). One professor calls the student life a “moral disaster” (p.59) even though the dorms are single sex. In addition abortion has taken a back seat to the issue of homosexuality at Notre Dame. There are few black students in attendance due to the low quality of many inner city high schools.

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) is also Catholic, but as different from Notre Dame as Bob Jones is from Wheaton. It is a conservative coed liberal arts college with just 300 students in rural Santa Paula, California. Some 60% of the students have attended parochial schools and of the 40% remaining, half of them are homeschooled. As an example of the overt piety at TAC, Riley recounts that when she went into a classroom with a professor, all of the students stood immediately and responsively recited “the prayer to the Holy Spirit” (p.77). All of the students go through the same curriculum and all of the tutors teach all of the students – there are no majors and no electives. Every student must take philosophy, math, language, theology, laboratory, and seminar. In addition, all learn Latin grammar and study the mass. TAC accepts no government funds so there is no problem in the mixture of religion and education. There are no real problems about sex and drugs and the biggest controversy is Plato versus Aristotle (p.88).

Yeshiva University is located in NYC and has “no campus to speak of” (p.99). There are 3,000 undergraduates and more than 4,000 graduate students, with prominent schools of medicine, law, business, and social work, all in a Jewish Orthodox setting. Its female counterpart is the Stern College for Women and together they rank number 40 in the U.S. News & World Report of 2003. The University is divided between the sacred school and subjects taught by rabbis, and the secular schools that receive government funding but do not teach religion. However, “the deans of both undergraduate men’s divisions agree that Yesiva ‘is not a religious college’ at all” (p.107).

Baylor University is located in Waco, Texas in a beautiful setting along the Brazos River. Historically, and still in name, it is a Southern Baptist school but (since 1990) not controlled by the convention or any religious organization. Baylor has expanded its student body (present enrollment is about 14,000, according to their website) and faculty, but does not have a great deal of diversity. When faculty are selected they are expected to provide “points of contact and tension between their secular studies and their Christian faith” (p.123). But Baylor also wishes to be known as a school with competitive sports teams in the Big 12, so “Most students report that athletes on campus are treated differently – special tutoring, special means, special living arrangements, etc.” (p.127). Riley reports problems of drinking and sex, usually off the campus where most of the students live.

Riley also reports how feminism has changed religious colleges – in 2004 women represented 59% of the enrollment (p. 135). The ‘race gap’ is still obvious at many of the Christian colleges, despite affirmative action. This is due to the expensive tuition, their locations, and the ineffective recruitment programs at many of the schools. Blacks, for example, were barred from Bob Jones until 1970 (p. 155). Even so, as Riley notes, “In at least one of its goals – creating a microcosm for racial integration that could be taken into American society at large – affirmative action has hardly been a success” (p. 163).

Chapter 9 of God on the Quad is devoted to “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.” In contrast to the sexual awareness (or promiscuity) and binge drinking that are a large part of the “education” at secular colleges, the issues at Christian colleges are minor. There are single sex dormitories and most colleges have strict rules about homosexuality and the demonstration of affection (or even music at Bob Jones) on campus.

Riley also addresses how school administrations and student bodies treat minority religious groups at various schools. One of her unusual examples is Soka University, a Buddist school with common sense values of “peace, human rights, and the sanctity of life” (p.191). In fact “Of all the cultural changes brought about by the baby boomer generation, perhaps the least mentioned is religious assimilation. Young people today take for granted this climate of religious diversity and toleration” (pp. 195–196). Even at a Reformed college like Calvin (in Michigan), the number of students that identify with such churches has dropped forty points {meaning? Is this the same as 40%?} in the last 30 years (p.203).

In Chapter 11, Riley asks the compelling question “The classroom as chapel: can the integration of faith and learning work?” (p. 211). Most classes seem to work that way – admission officers at evangelical colleges are finding a growing interest by graduates of public high schools. Such colleges offer an environment that promotes more motivation that their secular counterparts – the students do their work and they go to class.

Examples of the sometimes difficult interplay between faith and learning (when it comes to accreditation) are the cases of TAC and Regent University. Both failed initially to gain accreditation from the respective agencies and had to appeal the decisions. More recently the Department of Education has authorized another accreditation agency, the American Academy of Liberal Education. It seems to look more favorably on schools with strong religious identities. It did run into a problem with Patrick Henry College because the school’s faculty taught “only a strict creationist doctrine and [instructors] sign a statement to that effect,” but it also failed to demonstrate freedom of thought and speech (p. 218).

Postmodernism and “the radical individualism that it encourages” has had a negative effect on the interaction of faith and learning. Nevertheless, employers are looking for graduates who have thought through the ethical issues and respond to them appropriately. Riley challenges the colleges to see that they have “a tremendous opportunity to provide hospitals, law firms, business, and political organizations with the kind of ethically aware professions that they desperately need today” (p.236).

The final chapter of God on the Quad examines campus political discourse and is basically a search for the protestors. Are Christian college students concerned enough about foreign policies, abortion, the environment, and other issues, that they will enter the Public Square and speak out about them?

Riley did not attend Muslim colleges because Muslims are in attendance, for the most part, at secular schools. Even among Muslim scholars there is a concern that setting up their own universities would allow extremists to persuade students into their camp.

Her generally positive comments throughout the book support the subtitle claim that “religious colleges and the missionary generation are changing America.”

Riley’s book should be read by Christian parents who are considering sending their children off to college and wondering if education at a religious college will provide a high standard of training, as well as a morally positive environment. It is also a book that can help SIL and WBT administrators evaluate the kinds of students they can expect from religious institutions.

Karl Franklin, August 15, 2008

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