Jesus Loves U.
God on the Quad by Naomi Schaefer Riley
God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation
Are Changing America
St. Martin’s Press, 2005
(288 pages, $24.95, hardcover)
reviewed by Joseph M. Knippenberg
Home for me is Blue America,” admits self-described “nice Jewish girl” Naomi Schaefer Riley. “I attended two secular colleges and grew up with a sense that religion, while socially beneficial (in that it provided people with a moral compass they might not otherwise have), was not true.”
Yet though a self-conscious outsider to the world she investigated, her God on the Quad is a serious and sympathetic attempt to describe the current crop of religious college students. Riley is relatively young, a recent (1998) college graduate who has a feel for the kinds of issues her subjects face and interacts with them as a “near peer.” (Full disclosure: I am acquainted with Ms. Riley’s father, who teaches political philosophy at Holy Cross. He and I are members of the same philosophical “sect” or “tribe.”)
In writing the book, Riley visited an impressive array of institutions (twenty in all), from established universities like Brigham Young, Baylor, and Notre Dame to small, new, self-consciously traditional colleges like Christendom, Patrick Henry, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, as well as Jewish and Buddhist universities. Showing a healthy skepticism about the efforts of university public relations staffers, she sought out the “dissidents” and “malcontents” as well as the model campus citizens.
There are chapters on individual institutions (BYU, Bob Jones, Notre Dame, California’s Thomas Aquinas College, Baylor, and Yeshiva), as well as on common themes in campus life (like the role of women, “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll,” and the integration of faith and learning).
The result is a portrait of what Riley calls “the missionary generation,” the “1.3 million [presumably recent] graduates of the nation’s more than seven hundred [presumably most faithful] religious colleges.” I add the qualifiers since Riley nowhere tells us precisely where she gets her numbers.
These young people are, she says, “red through and through”: “They reject the spiritually empty education of secular schools. They refuse to accept the sophisticated ennui of their contemporaries. . . . They rebuff the intellectual relativism of professors and the moral relativism of their peers.” They not only think differently, they act differently:
Joseph M. Knippenberg is Professor of Politics and Director of the Rich Foundation Urban Leadership Program at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, on whose website (www.ashbrook.org) and weblog (www.noleftturns.ashbrook.org) he frequently posts.
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