I’ve been drawing on a lecture by Vinoth Ramachandra to continue my question, What is the stuff of university ministry? The last post suggested that an integrative approach to student ministry will involve seeking out the complexities of the university. What might that look like?
We will allow the complexities of the university landscape to guide the shape of university ministry.
Ramachandra spends much of this lecture exploring the context of today’s university, and he singles out three features — not things at the foundation of university education, but changes that have developed in recent decades. What I’ve written below is part summary and part reflection.
• Mass education
• Fragmentation of academic life.
ONE. Along with the worldwide proliferation of tertiary education, the university has become more bound up with and reflective of surrounding society. This means that many people involved in political and social issues are doing so as university students. Ramachandra explains that university ministry therefore ‘cannot isolate itself from the tensions and upheavals of the wider society in which it is embedded’. And it cannot wait till students are grown up, or become established, or are mature in their field (this makes little sense in a country like Tanzania, where students are likely to be in their twenties or thirties). Q: How will student groups treat their members as responsible citizens as well as learners?
TWO. Ramachandra discusses the corporatisation and moneyed interests involved in today’s universities. I reckon there’s a fresh need for students to be aware of the systemic, often invisible powers exerting pressure on them, on their studies, on their campus, and on their field. Although Ramachandra doesn’t explore the ramifications for student ministry here, he has covered some of these things in blog posts and a book, Subverting Global Myths. Q: How will student groups sensitise students to transnational economic forces?
THREE. The various domains of academic inquiry have simultaneously become more and more specialised, and more and more disconnected from one another. This heightens the need for student ministries to practice integrative thinking. In training and working alongside students, it seems to me that while Bible study and biblical categories could be a good starting place, it’s not enough to leave students there — in fact, it could be another avenue of specialisation and compartmentalisation. Students need to be equipped with tools to understand the university as well as tools to understand their faith — word and world together for double listening. Q: How will student groups practice integrative thinking? To ‘engage’ with the currents of the university means considering these currents as friends in conversation (even if in disagreement) rather than simply sparring partners or foils for preconceived doctrinal content. Q: How will student groups promote genuine conversation?
More still to come. Keep the comments coming too.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.