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The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God
The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God
Stanley Hauerwas
Wiley-Blackwell, 2007
232 pp., $51.95

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Thomas Albert Howard


Hauerwas at School

What's a university for?

Since the 19th century, much ink has been spilt attempting to "justify" theology as a legitimate discipline in the "modern university." Gone are the glory days of 13th-century Paris, theologians have conceded, but surely a chastened theology deserves a place at the table with other academic fields. A quiet dignity for the erstwhile queen of the sciences might consist precisely in her voluntary dimunition and willingness to "play by the rules" of the university at large. Or so some have argued.

The Barthian revolution in theology excoriated this line of reasoning, even as it happily burned many bridges to the 13th century. Barth thought that theologians ought to quit fretting about their institutional share and attend to the actual tasks of theology, which he regarded as inseperable from the mission of the church. Paradoxically, the practice of theology in service to the church, not its success at academic legitimation, gave theology a voice in the university, if no absolute right of residency. But theology should never settle for being a normal member of the academic community; it functioned as a "signal of distress," a flashing siren this side of modernity proclaiming the crisis of mortal existence and the indefectible love of God.

Few contemporary theologians have taken Barth's advice to heart quite like Duke Divinity School's Stanley Hauerwas. Those who rue the Barthian-Hauerwasian line in modern theology might be tempted, after picking up this book and then quickly setting it aside, to quip with Marx that history tends to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. But this would be to forfeit the probing insights, and pleasures, of hearing a first-order theological provocateur as he turns his sights on one of the most influential institutions in modern society: the university.

Like many of Hauerwas' works, this is a collection of writings and addresses prepared for disparate audiences. It is a "book" because Hauerwas says it is; but enough ...

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