One of the resources that editors use to find scholars of obscure fields of study is a website called Scholar Universe. Now, before you all rush to the site and crash the system, I should warn you that you’ll need to purchase an account and get a password to use it. Frankly, for our society it really isn’t worth the effort or expense for most people. The information on Scholar Universe is often outdated, and not always accurate. Once, when searching for who’s who in classical mythology, I was surprised to find my own name. I did teach classical mythology at Montclair State University for three semesters, but my longer and more complete career of teaching biblical studies was nowhere to be found. How quickly our contributions, meager though they be, disappear. In any case, when a contact breaks down, the website lists the position of a scholar as “Last Known.” More than once I’ve searched for a more updated record to find “Last Known” as a circumlocution for “deceased.” There are a few things I think I’d like to ask some dead religion professors.
I recently came across a couple of academics who had, in separate instances, been murdered. One, rather gruesomely, attacked with a hammer as he walked home from the train. We tend to think that education will somehow protect us from the vicissitudes of a world caught up in its own madness. Some of us came to this profession grasping for some sort of immortality. Higher education, while based on great ideals, is nevertheless just as susceptible to taint as any human enterprise. I have been watching as higher education has followed after the role model of business for the past few decades. There was a time when learning was thought to be worth the investment, no matter what the cost. Now a pleasant deception will do, thank you, as long as there’s cash in it.
The history of higher education has been, from the beginning, tied up with religion. The earliest universities coalesced around theological faculties, while others studied law. The two are never far apart. Even in the “New World” our early universities were formed, initially, in the service of the church. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, William and Mary, and many other colleges and universities were founded with the ideal of theological education firmly in mind. Concerns for the affairs of the world, however, inevitably came to preoccupy higher education. Secular schools have little time to study real world phenomena such as religion and spirituality. Unfortunately, those are the areas, our news sources often inform us, that would benefit the most from a bit of sensible learning. But not as long as there is money to be made elsewhere.