Seekers of wisdom

December 13, 2011

Baylor hosts international symposium on wisdom in higher education

Scholars from all over the world met at Baylor Oct. 27-29 to discuss the role of wisdom in the modern academy at the 2011 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture, hosted annually by Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL). This year's topic was "Educating for Wisdom in the 21st Century University."

The symposium drew 432 official registrants -- and more than 500 total participants -- from around the nation as well as Canada, Great Britain and Australia, said Dr. Darin Davis, MA '95, director of the institute and an assistant professor of philosophy. More than 120 presenters representing more than 60 institutions and many disciplines -- among them the humanities, business, sciences and engineering -- gathered at Baylor.

"We had an incredibly diverse audience including senior administrators, faculty members, graduate students and undergraduates from more than 25 different disciplines, which is rare in an academic conference. Even in a multidisciplinary conference, usually only a handful of disciplines are represented," Davis said, noting that this conference was the largest the IFL has ever hosted.

"This symposium was remarkable in both its depth and the variety of perspectives taken on a common theme. The humanities were well represented, of course, but so were the sciences and professional schools," he said. "In a time when the landscape of American higher education is changing so rapidly, our conference provided a chance to revisit the fundamental questions about what universities are for."

Among the featured speakers at the international event were eminent Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann; Dr. Andrew Delbanco, named in 2001 by Time Magazine as "America's Best Social Critic" and chair in the humanities at Columbia University; Dr. Anthony Kronman, former dean of Yale Law School; and Dr. Candace Vogler, chair of the philosophy department at the University of Chicago.

Baylor President Ken Starr also joined Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken and Dr. Robert Spitzer, a member of the Society of Jesus and former president of Gonzaga University, for a panel discussion on "Educating for Wisdom in Christian Universities."

Davis said that while the pursuit and transmission of wisdom historically has been at the heart of education, some critics claim that wisdom has been relegated to second-class status among universities' other goals. Separated from other aims -- such as discovering new knowledge or imparting marketable skills to eventual job seekers -- wisdom too often is seen as the sole province of a few disciplines like philosophy and theology, and not at the center of the entire university's work and purpose, he said.

"Without wisdom, how does the university fulfill its enduring mission to nurture our human nature and serve the deepest needs of our communities, nation and world? Ideally, every discipline in the university seeks to educate students for the long run, not simply for a first job," Davis said. Baylor's prominence as a Christian university makes it a most appropriate venue for the symposium because "it can draw on the treasures of biblical and theological reflection on wisdom," he said.

"The response we have received from the conference has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants have told us they were both inspired and encouraged to reflect anew about the nature and purpose of a university."

Davis says that through these conferences, IFL provides a gathering place where those interested in the Christian perspective on the most compelling ideas in culture can find intellectual community animated by faith.

"At Baylor, we recognize that we have a stewardship for the cause of church-related higher education. The conversations begun at conferences like these encourage people near and far in very tangible ways," he said. "There's a ripple effect that's incredibly important. Christian teachers and scholars need opportunities for shared reflection grounded in genuine community. The Institute for Faith and Learning is honored to help make these opportunities possible."