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Snorkeling at the Seminaries
Hanauma Bay is a snorkeler's heaven. Hawaii's colorful fish species can only be discovered by "being there," a plunge into the waters with mask and air tube. This book, well-named Being There, is a study in snorkeling, the results of a sustained swim in the underwater life of Protestant seminaries.
A team of church social scientists chose two species to track: two seminaries, generically labeled "Evangelical" and "Mainline," understood to be in the "streams" of evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism. The identity of the schools, both of which are described as large, secure, and at the center of their respective constituencies, is disguised. Being Thereis a search for subsurface phenomena, "cultures" below the level of curriculum or conventional self-descriptions. Culture so understood is made up of "shared (publicly available) symbolic forms—world-views, beliefs, ritual practices, ceremonies, art and architecture, languages, and patterns of everyday interaction," the "script" that guides the "actors." The researchers immersed themselves for three seminary years (1989-90 through 1991-92) in the culture of each school, living for periods on campus, attending classes, chapels, and trustee meetings, interviewing students, faculty, administration, and staff, eating in the cafeterias, visiting related congregations, and listening in on campus conversations and controversies.
While they are telling us about the institutions they observed, the researchers are also revealing something about the tacit culture that they themselves bring to the inquiry. As Don Browning points out elsewhere, the "congregational studies" movement (a significant influence on this project) is "theory-laden."1 Watching the watchers, therefore, is worth doing and here includes a look at the snorkelers from the bluff over Hanauma Bay, a perch formed from the reviewer's longtime acquaintance as a mainline outsider with the anonymous Evangelical Seminary (including a course taught there during the ...