Making the most of college: studying ourselves to life or to death?

A few suggestions for a Christian student at a secular university . . .

Appears in Fall 2008 Issue: Making the most of college (third annual)
September 1 st 2008

A few suggestions for a Christian student at a secular university:

  1. Major in the best profs, who make you think self-critically and who give solid course content in a field-area that you have gifts for or can be busy with, without noticing the passage of time.

  2. Take a double major, if possible, to promote the ability to do interdisciplinary thinking, a kind of informal philosophy major (if the philosophy available is sophistic, skeptical or "undeep").

  3. Get in-depth knowledge of a certain period: 5th to 4th century B.C. Athens, Renaissance England, Europe around the time of the French Revolution, or America during the 1920s. That is, rather than staying with survey knowledge, get close to a slice of cultural life somewhere, once upon a time, in many of its facets—a form of encyclopedia-historical study. Maybe work for a couple summers or part of a year in an African village, do volunteer work in Central America, or take a job on the south side of Chicago or in Toronto's Regent Park.

  4. Do your thesis or long paper, if possible, on the history of the discipline you are interested in. Normative problems turn up in the decisive turns and crises an area of study undergoes, and such changes face you and your prof with the fact that the status quo did not drop out of heaven but is a response by humans driven by spirited love and philosophical commitments.

  5. Find a group of kindred spirits with whom to read books of Christian philosophy together, any kind of communal deeper reflection on current problems, so that you exercise in community how to pin down the idolatries of our day in theory. We need to help one another detect ideas that lead thinking programs into dead ends, or unpack concepts that foster self-righteousness.

  6. Read a novel every month or so, to gather in the breadth and richness of the big Russian writers, the French authors like Balzac and Flaubert; get to know George Eliot, Melville and Faulkner; read Gabriel Marquez, Chinua Achebe, Ursula le Guin, go back to the Christian Chaucer—it's all there to sift and learn from, an incredible treasury of insights and errors.
Topics: Education

Calvin G. Seerveld is Professor Emeritus in Philosophical Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, and the author of several influential books, including Rainbows for the Fallen World.