God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and Missionary Generation Are Changing America

In the current polarized political and cultural climate, it seems that Americans are governed less by the motto of “E Pluribus Unum” and have adopted something of an “E Pluribus Duo” philosophy instead. The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections heightened this division with incessant talk of Blue and Red States and the cultural and ideological rifts between them. Bush voters circulated maps disdainfully labeling both coasts and New England as the “United States of Canada.” For their part, Blue Americans often portray their conservative opponents as unenlightened dupes and rubes, and consider virtually everything between the coasts as “flyover country.”

Fortunately, some authors such as Naomi Schaefer Riley are trying to bridge the gap. One of the purposes of her highly readable and informative book God on the Quad is to make Red Americans a bit more comprehensible to Blue Americans through a specific focus on religious colleges and universities. In an academic culture that is pervaded with secularism, liberalism, and postmodernism, religious schools and those who attend or teach at them are often dismissed or belittled. While Riley does identify some, such as Patrick Henry College, that do not compare favorably with secular colleges in terms of overall quality of education, for the most part she finds that the schools she visited are ambitious and successful institutions of higher learning that in many ways are on par with their secular counterparts. Although her impressions are largely anecdotal and therefore somewhat arbitrary, in making her judgments she considers such aspects as matriculating students’ high school grades and test scores, postgraduation careers and placements, and the overall academic caliber of students and professors she encountered during her visits. Riley’s primary argument is that as administrators and professors at religious colleges “navigate between the dangers of secularization and isolation,” their students will emerge as leaders in next-generation America “by contributing thoughtful and community-minded citizens, whose religious beliefs strengthen the causes of civic commitment, moral decency, and family stability.” God on the Quad, therefore, simultaneously works as a call for Blue America to take religious higher education more seriously and as a roadmap of some of the potential pitfalls that religious schools face as they seek to put their stamp not just on their students but on American society as a whole.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 44:3
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