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Commentary

How to Get Out of Fundamentalism: Build a Law School

In an incisive critique, Charles Habib Malik, philosopher and diplomat, laid bare the bankruptcy of the contemporary university: an institution once focused in Jesus Christ but which has now decisively "swerved" from that grounding. The great centers of learning in the Western world have generally abandoned the transcendent basis of their intellectual life. And in our own generation, their significance for the culture has become all-encompassing. The university is the centerpoint of the modern world, the crossroads of our troubled age.

So readers ofBOOKS &CULTURE will need no persuading that the survival of those modest postsecondary institutions that retain a conservative Protestant confessional heritage, the "Christian colleges and universities," is in fact something other than one of the many oddities of our collapsing culture. Their tenuous presence in the educational-cultural complex offers a haunting memory of all our yesterdays as well as a little, hand-sized cloud of promise for the future. As Thomas Cahill's seminal volume How the Irish Saved Civilization has lately reminded us, it is was in little, countercultural learning communities that the last great cultural collapse in Western history was mediated into the glories of the high Middle Ages.

Yet our schools face the most serious of questions as they seek the narrow passage between Scylla and Charybdis, with chapel-veneer secularism on the one hand and fundamentalism redivivus on the other. If our projects in higher education are finally to count for the kingdom in the third millennium, they must be wholly Christian, but they must be equally informed by a passion for cultural engagement. Mere islands of orthodox piety will simply embody the caricature of monastic withdrawal, which, as Cahill has reminded us, even the monks managed to transcend. Yet the answer, as well we know, lies not in the rhetoric of mission statements (we are all postfundamentalists ...

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