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C. Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University
C. Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University
A. Donald MacLeod
IVP Academic, 2007
283 pp., $25.00

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by Ken Stewart


Loss and Recovery

Secularization and the university.

By common reckoning, Canada experienced secularization more rapidly in the 20th century than did the United States. Indeed, it is frequently remarked that as to manifestations of religious faith in public life, Canada more resembles the nations of Western Europe than she does the United States. It is the merit of Catherine Gidney's A Long Eclipse that it calls into question the application of this broad-brush interpretation of comparative secularization to the unfolding direction of Canadian university life.

Conversant with the literature that suggests an extensive secularization of American universities by the 1920s, Gidney probed the institutional histories of five Canadian schools and found intriguing differences. According to her findings, Canadian universities, whether founded originally as church-backed or as government-funded institutions, reflected the ethos of mainline Protestantism into the late 1950s.

Canada's universities (excepting Roman Catholic institutions) existed to provide training in arts and sciences for a populace deemed essentially Protestant. Presidents for such schools were men who had been church leaders and these, with their university faculties, affirmed the indebtedness of the arts and sciences to the classical and Christian past. They understood their work to include the moral as well as intellectual formation of their students. Only by 1960 did this world vanish.

Gidney, having gathered impressive data, is not loath to explore why the changes came, and when. In the period surveyed, she notes that Canadian university education ceased to be the privilege of the professional classes. Also, these institutions increasingly reflected the cultural pluralism which followed on Canada's open immigration policies. Expanding enrollments required a proliferation of faculty members; these also were now more diverse. No longer could presidents hire only those whose academic credentials were augmented by loyalty to Christianity. Collectively these changes ...

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