Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Faith-Based Institutions, Institutional Mission, and the Public Good

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Faith-Based Institutions, Institutional Mission, and the Public Good

Article excerpt


The role of the institutional mission is to shape the work of the institution (Ferrari & Velcoff, 2006; Kreber & Mhina, 2007; Lopez, 2001; Woodrow, 2006). Faith-based colleges and universities are guided by missions that are informed and motivated by their faith convictions (Delucchi, 1997; Firmin & Gilson, 2010; Wilson, 1996). Further, Wilson (1996) suggested that a religious organization's mission statement is the implementation of the practical reflection of that religion. Thus, the many faith-based colleges and universities are the practical application of the sponsoring religion or faith-community's religious and cultural expectations and aspirations.

While initially Protestant in origination, the landscape of faith-based higher education in the United States of America now includes accredited institutions representing Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim religions (Nasr, n.d; Thelin, 2004). These faith-based institutions are propagating the distinctive theological and cultural ideologies of their sponsor through the pursuit of their missions; yet, overlap in mission exists even among these diverse institutions. These colleges and universities are all affiliated with Semitic or Abrahamic religions with an emphasis on scripture (Levenson, 2012). It is within the passages of their various sacred texts that these religions find models, examples, and even commandments toward serving others and supporting a local and global "neighbor." Therefore, American faith-based colleges and universities are in a unique position to be particularly effective in their work of serving local communities and preserving a global good precisely because of their faith-informed and motivated missions. The missions of faith-based institutions are uniquely powerful, harnessing a combination of the hope inherent in education and the gravitas of eternity, the synergy of which is much more potent than either aspect individually (Daniels, 2015). However, a preface of qualification is necessitated.

Prior to exploring how faith-based colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to work effectively toward a shared public good, an acknowledgement of the current reality is also necessitated. Within the current faith-based institutions in America, substantial variation exists in both understanding and interpretation of the definition of public good and missional commitment to and active work toward a public good. Ultimately, this diversity is simply reflective of the robust diversity of faith-based colleges and universities in America and, further, the plurality of denominations, faith-traditions, and religions that undergird these faith-based institutions.

Literature Review

Faith-Based Higher Education in America

According to Hunt and Carper (1996), "Religious colleges and universities have been an integral part of the American higher education scene for over three hundred years" (p. 1). Many of the earliest institutions were created by various Protestant denominations in order to provide ministerial training, including some of the nation's most prestigious universities such as Harvard and Yale (Hunt & Carper, 1996; Mardsen, 1996; Thelin, 2004). In the subsequent centuries, diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious sponsors established colleges and universities to expand educational opportunities for their (often immigrant) communities and to provide cultural and ministry or religious training reflective of their nation of origin (Hunt & Carper, 1996). A proliferation of religious colleges and seminaries followed, reinforcing the cultural and religious distinctiveness of their founding Protestant denominations or Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, and Mormon faith traditions (Thelin, 2004). According to Hunt and Carper (1996)

Many of these religious colleges and universities have continued to the present time and, indeed, a cursory review of one of the many descriptive catalogs on colleges and universities will reveal that approximately one-third of the higher education institutions in the United States still claim to have some religious affiliation. …

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