posted November 18, 2013

Grant to Support Discussion of Ecumenism in Christian Higher Education

A grant to Hope College from the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and Arts will support on-going discussion of how different traditions in Christianity can work together within colleges and universities.

The goal is to develop an understanding of the promise and challenges of genuine ecumenicity in Christian higher education, ultimately to help provide a richer experience for students not only at Hope but beyond.  The $3,000 Lilly Fellows Program Small Grant award will support a series of faculty discussions at Hope during the 2014-15 academic year, a program that is envisioned as a starting point for conversation that in the future will also engage other colleges and universities.

The focus will be on a concept that the faculty organizers at Hope have framed as “robust ecumenism,” defined as the ability of different traditions to coexist—and teach and learn--constructively through dialogue even as they may need to agree to disagree.  The term comes from the 2005 book “Can Hope Endure? A Historical Case Study in Christian Higher Education” by Dr. James Kennedy and Dr. Caroline Simon, former members of the Hope faculty.

“In broad terms, robust ecumenism is the attempt to describe what is needed at an academic institution for people to be willing to speak from their particular Christian perspective, ask for clarification when others’ ways of speaking need translation and work at genuine understanding, which may be include informed disagreement,” said Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger, who is the associate dean for teaching and learning at Hope as well as a professor of religion.  “In other words, robust ecumenism does not assume that everyone must adopt a lowest common denominator stance with respect to differences; rather it assumes that for authentic conversation to take place people must honestly express deeply held views they hold as true.”

The organizers hope to follow the year-long discussion at Hope with a conference during the 2015-16 school year for other colleges and universities interested in the same theme.  The vision is to produce a publication featuring the conference presentations that could serve as a resource not only at Hope and for the conference participants but for other educators and beyond higher education as well.

“This academic work has the potential to reap benefits beyond the world of higher education by fostering constructive dialogue in our local churches, cities and communities,” Bouma-Prediger said.

The Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts, based in Christ College, the interdisciplinary honors college of Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, seeks to strengthen the quality and shape the character of church-related institutions of higher learning in the 21st century.  The program is funded by Valparaiso University, the LFP National Network of church-related colleges and universities, and a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation.

The Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts sustains three distinct yet integrated initiatives.  The collaborative National Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities, of which Hope is a member, sponsors a variety of activities and publications designed to explore the Christian character of the academic vocation and to strengthen the religious nature of church related institutions.  The Lilly Graduate Fellows Program supports, during their first three years of graduate school, young men and women of exceptional academic talent who are exploring vocations in church-related higher education.  The residential, two-year Postdoctoral Teaching Fellows Program at Valparaiso University is for young scholars who wish to renew their sense of vocation within a Christian community of learning in order to prepare themselves for positions of teaching and leadership within church-related institutions.