Seeing the Light
Religious Colleges in the Twenty-First Century
Johns Hopkins University Press, $50, 336 pp.
More than a decade ago, Fr. James Tunstead Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of College and Universities from Their Christian Churches created a stir in higher education. Burtchaell argued that historically religious colleges in the United States had gradually weakened their denominational ties and abandoned any meaningful religious identity and mission. Citing an array of case studies, Burtchaell documented with a kind of sardonic glee the vague and pious rhetoric that institutions regularly used to cloak this transition and decline.
Samuel Schuman’s Seeing the Light presents itself as a refutation of Burtchaell’s massive volume. “I obviously disagree with [Burtchaell’s] thesis,” Schuman writes. “I believe that the light still shines brightly.”
Whatever one thinks of Burtchaell’s argument, Seeing the Light does not respond to it, much less refute it. While Burtchaell spent most of his time tracing the history of numerous mainstream Protestant and Catholic colleges and universities, from Ivy League schools like Dartmouth to Catholic institutions like Boston College, Schuman’s book attends almost exclusively to evangelical Protestant colleges. His motive and intended audience differ sharply from Burtchaell’s. As the longtime chancellor of the University of Minnesota-Morris, a public liberal-arts college, Schuman is concerned to persuade a wider—mostly public—higher-education community that religious colleges are...