The Spirit of Servi ce
Exploring Faith, Service, and Social Justice in Higher Education
Edited Brian T. Johnson and Carolyn R. O’Grady
Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing, 2006
This book is a compilation of essays written by faculty, staff, and students from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota about integrating faith, service, social justice, and academic learning within a faith-based institution. Gustavus Adolphus has ties to the Evangelical Lutheran faith denomination, but the book gives voice to other faith traditions within its faculty including atheism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism. The faculty writers, who represent a wide spectrum of academic disciplines, speak about how despite the religious affiliation of Gustavus Adolphus, faculty and students alike are uncomfortable when faith-related comments arise in the classroom and tend to ignore such remarks rather than integrating them into academic discussion. The book gives voice to the awkwardness, fear, even failure that can result when academics find themselves restricted by the barriers between accepted academic competence and the realms of faith and social justice.
Sharon Daloz Parks states in the foreword, “This book has come into being because the authors have recognized that it is in the awkward moments and false assumptions that something critically important in their practice of the intellectual life and in their responsibility to students and to the wider life of our world is at stake.” The book is composed of three sections. In Part I: Analyzing the Landscape, the editors provide an overall outline and talk about how they started compiling the book after recognizing their own reluctance to engage in religious discussion with students despite the fact that the majority of students at Gustavus claim religious faith and the religious roots of the college. A Buddhist faculty member writes about how “faith talk” can ground a faith-based institution, but the pressure to achieve “diversity” can dispel a common faith language.
Part II: Practicing What We Preach gives concrete examples of integrating faith and service within academics and what has proven successful and what has proven problematic. Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter discusses faculty support and development at Gustavus in integrating faith, vocation, and social justice into the classroom and the risks and rewards therein. The associate dean for diversity development describes opportunities and challenges in providing venues for students to explore religious and racial identity. A service-learning course development program for faculty is detailed, and two reflections by alumni describe their Gustavus experiences in grappling with issues of faith, service, justice, and vocation.
An especially fine chapter on reflection is provided by Chris Johnson, the director for the center of vocation reflection, in which he posits that learning does take place through service-learning. The idea that reflection is key to service-learning is nothing new to the pedagogy’s proponents, but Johnson’s chapter is a well-articulated discussion on the how and why of reflection. He says, “Reflection calls attention to the ways we take in and process information so that it registers as something about which we can have feelings, make judgments, and deliberate our best responses. From finer perception can flow empathy, refined judgment and critical thinking, and more richly informed action.”
The book’s audience may be largely limited to faith-based, private institutions. However, the chapter on reflection and other portions of the book would prove valuable to virtually any institution with service-learning courses or social justice aims. For those of us at Samford, the issues discussed within the book are highly relevant as we are in the midst of a theological exploration of vocation grant from the Lilly Foundation for the express purpose of helping students discern vocation and integrate faith and academic learning within their undergraduate experiences.
Lynette Moore Sandley