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The Last Taboo of Higher Education

religions_earthI credit Hannah Pynn with the naming of this blog post, for surely she said it better than I. In higher education, and particularly public higher education, a long standing fear stands in the way of an age old endeavor: to meet, educate, and train the whole person. For decades, co-curricular endeavors to support specialized student populations have swept the nation. Women’s centers movements and multicultural centers, GLBTQA centers and international student services, mental health and well being, sexual violence and parent programs. All of these areas have been addressed. But in its fear and frailty of knowledge, higher education has left out a pivotal realm: spirituality.
Efforts over the past decade have moved us forward on discussions to change this situation, with research coming from multiple corners of higher educations and individual units and organizations breaking down walls as reality hits in and student needs are being neglected. Even so, and with more research arriving each month to further rationalize an argument, the time has come for higher education to embrace reality: spirituality is at the core of human identity and its specialized support is needed if higher education is to live out its mission of training the whole person.

While accepting this task has taken quite a time, making it reality may take ever further.  Complexity of legal issues, generalized fear of reprisal from individuals who remain skeptics, and simply a lack of education on the topic are all issues to be concerned about.  But there is also a need for higher education workers and religious “campus ministry” staff to find common mission.  Often times, the mission of religious staff has been quite different, even oppositional to that of the university’s.  If common ground might be found, at least to the understanding that we are here trying to shape students into well rounded students for a globalized world, then perhaps our missions can align, at least to a certain extent.  I would challenge the religious staff out there to consider the opportunities that would come from partnering with the university.

In many ways, this is where this blog is meant to help.  With so many questions to be considered but yet so much research being done, the chance to synthesize the work of higher education and the religious workers is important. Simply ignoring one another or holding each other at arms length has and will continue to be a fruitless activity leading to more division and little progress. Thus, a call for renewal and change.

This website is being designed to support the hard work of spirituality in higher education.  We need everyone’s voices, everyone’s ideas, and everyone’s concerns.  We need everyone listening and talking to one another.  So here is my request.  Call your colleagues, tell them to connect to this blog, to connect together as religious professionals and higher education administrators and staff and each week, let’s find ways to connect.  If you have a topic you want to write about, please let me know.  If you have suggestions on what you would like to know about, let’s connect.  If you simply with to engage in this topic, and don’t know where to start, send me an email at j.cody.nielsen@gmail.com and we can talk.

As a note, I already run a sister blog that is focused mostly on the issues related to campus ministry at large, including but not limited to things like board development, fundraising, and general issues related specifically to how to support the field of campus ministry.  You are welcome to connect with this blog as well at www.campusministrymatters.com.  I look forward to connecting with many of you and hopefully meeting with many of you as this project unfolds.  Thank you for the support.


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