Towards a Broader Concept of Scholarship

Don Thorsen


Too often we become discouraged with regard to our ability to contribute to contemporary scholarship. This is especially true for those of us who are professors at small christian institutions of higher education, which place great emphasis upon teaching. Because of the often heavy demand of teaching responsibilities and the lack of resources for scholarship, we find it difficult to make significant contributions to our academic disciplines. So emphasis ends up being placed more upon teaching than upon other scholarly pursuits.

Historic Concept of Scholarship

Part of the discouragement comes from a narrow concept of scholarship that permeates higher education in the United States. Ernest Boyer points out this narrowness in his special report for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching entitled Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990). Historically, he notes that scholarship included three emphases: teaching, service and research. But today, Boyer argues, the concept of scholarship has largely been reduced to that of research and its publication. Emphases upon teaching and service are being neglected.

This narrow perspective has affected Christian scholars and academies as well as others in the country. The preoccupation with scholarship as research has discouraged many because of the feeling that they cannot compete with those at larger, research-oriented institutions of higher education. Thus many who would have otherwise endeavored to contribute to contemporary scholarship have pursued alternative interests.

Toward a Broadened Concept of Scholarship

Boyer advocates a broadened concept of scholarship that values and rewards more than the scholarship of discovery, which is what we refer to as research. In addition, he wants to advocate the scholarship of integration, application and teaching. Boyer describes the scholarship of integration as making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way, and even educating nonspecialists. The scholarship of application asks how knowledge can be responsibly applied to consequential problems, how it can be helpful to individuals as well as institutions, and the degree to which social problems should themselves define an agenda for scholarly investigation. Finally, the scholarship of teaching refers to the effective communication of the work of others in a way that transforms and extends knowledge as well as transmits it.

It is ironic that Boyer advocates a broadened concept of scholarship in order to improve the quality of teaching, which is the purpose of the Carnegie Foundation. Christian institutions, for the most part, already provide excellent teaching. This emphasis represents one of the reasons for their continued success. Consequently, they do not need to be urged so much in their scholarship of teaching as in their scholarship of discovery, integration and application. On this point, oyer provides helpful insights into how professors may develop their scholarship in more productive ways.

Although research---the scholarship of discovery---remains a fountainhead for new knowledge, Boyer does not want it to be considered the only way to contribute to contemporary scholarship. Just as there needs to be scholarly work done in the area of research, there also needs to be work done in the other areas. The scholarships of integration and application provide special opportunities for Christian scholars.

Special Opportunities for Christian Scholarship

In many ways, Christians are ideally suited for the work of integration and application. Because of our faith, we automatically look for ways in which to make connections between Christian concerns and the academic disciplines in which we work. Such integration facilitates our making further connections across the disciplines. By placing our disciplines within the larger context in which we live, we have a valuable opportunity to illuminate data in ways that are revealing and often applicable to society as well as the church. Educating nonspecialists about the relevance and applications of our particular disciplines of study should not be considered a less viable contribution to contemporary scholarship. It represents an integral service that the academy provides for the work in which we live.

Some people caricature the work of integration and application as a kind of "synthesizing" or "popularizing" that is unworthy of being called scholarship. This bias is found inside as well as outside Christianity. Although integration---like any scholarship---may degenerate into superficiality, the very nature of the scholarship of discovery as well as that of integration reflects the investigative and synthesizing traditions of academic life. Thus Christian professors would do well to focus upon how they might contribute through the scholarship of both integration and application. The lack of resources for scholarship---often typical of small Christian academies---would not prohibit someone from doing the same type of integrative work and applications performed by professors from larger, research-oriented institutions.

The Christian Scholar's Review provides an excellent opportunity for people to contribute to contemporary scholarship in ways that integrate Christian faith and learning on both the intra- and inter-disciplinary levels. It is but one of a number of ways to advance knowledge, understanding and service both among Christian scholars and between them and others.

Mr. Thorsen is the theology editor for Christian Scholar's Review.

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