Dr. George Yancey is a sociology professor and a self-proclaimed Christian at the University of North Texas (UNT).
Yancey earned his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin and has since published a plethora of peer reviewed articles and books on hot topics, such as race and religion.
Last week Yancey spoke to the Christian Graduate Student (CGS) organization at UNT on his article published in Christianity Today entitled “Into the Academic Lion’s Den”. According to his research, and the research of others, Yancey discovered politically and religiously conservative academics are at a distinct disadvantage in academia.
“My research shows academics in higher education hold social conservatives and evangelical Christians in low esteem,” Yancey said. “My research is not the only research out there, if it was, you could say ‘he’s a crazy Christian thats gone off the bandwagon,’ but it’s not.”
As a place for higher learning, Yancey provides two main reasons why discrimination may exist against Christians in academia.
“Anti-intellectualism is a problem within Christianity,” Yancey said. “Part of it may be do to the academic treatment of Christians, but I also think it may be due in part to individuals who are Christians, that don’t want to do the hard work of digging intellectually into their faith.”
Yancey doesn’t shy away from intellectualism. In fact, if atheism or some other form of religion were more intellectually compelling, he claims he would change his religious view.
“Christianity is intellectually sound,” said Yancey. “If you can intellectually convince me otherwise, I would believe it.”
Yancey spoke to students about the need for Christians in higher education in order to diversify academia in ways otherwise ignored.
“As a Christian, it allows me to bring a different perspective into things from a different light,” Yancey said. “It brings another perspective and it enriches academia.”
Yancey advised Christians pursuing a career in academia to do some personal inventory before they undergo the challenges it may bring. Including the discrimination they may face while in college and also future employment.
“One researcher was looking for anti-Semetism in academia,” said Yancey. “What he actually found was anti-Evangelicalism among academics.”
The discrimination Christians have often faced in academia does not end in the class room. It begins there and moves outward.
“Research shows that if you are a conservative Christian, people are less willing to hire you,” said Yancey. “There are going to be difficulties and challenges because there is antipathy if you are a conservative Christian.”
Yancey reminded his listeners not be one dimensional in their educational pursuits, as he recalled his early work on religion that criticized Christianity.
“I learned that it is important to do research that both critiques and supports the church,” said Counseling graduate student Alexandra Rose, who attended the meeting. “One of the most important takeaways from the lecture was that we Believers need to be ‘on top’ of things both academically and spiritually.”
Rose expressed she was uniformed of the research Yancey’s presented and had yet to undergo any anti-Christian bigotry on campus.
“I wasn’t necessarily aware that Christians are viewed as anti-intellectual,” said Rose. “I cannot think of any personal experience of religious discrimination.”
The animosity some Christians students may or may not experience, is possibly due to their particular degree path.
“I have definitely heard some underlying comments against Christianity from my professors,” said History and Political Science Senior Zach Morgan, who snuck into the CGS meeting. “Before I went to the lecture, I wasn’t aware of the animosity graduate students may face.”
Yancey’s perspective has also contributed to understanding race relations in the United States.
“Part of my job is about bringing people together and that comes from my faith,” Yancey said. “On my last book on dealing with race I worked with another Christian academic.We researched the steps needed to bring people from different races together. Not merely documenting the problems and saying one group needs to do this and everything will be fine.”
To expand his argument, Yancey used marriage as an example of how the United States approaches race relations.
“They way we treat race relations in the United States is: my group has to win everything, or else were not happy,” said Yancey. “If you’re married, you know that does not work. You may win an argument 100%, but you know that there will be something to pay later on.”
Yancey asserts that a different perspective in academia is needed if we are really going to deal with racial issues.
“Certain people in academia believe that higher education is the answer to make people better,” said Yancey. “If you see some of the themes of how we approach things, education is going to do away with racism, its going to do away with homophobia, its going to do away with poverty – we just got to get people educated. Where as Christianity has the notion that humans are deprived and that an educated person is still a deprived person. The evils within us are not just something we can educate out of people.”
Despite the criticism some Christians may feel in academia, Yancey defends the need for the Christians perspective, and warns against the bias every worldview may bring.
“My Christian perspective has made me more critical,” Yancey said. “I have to be very careful, because we all have confirmation bias. So the things that I like Im going to be less critical toward than things I don’t like. And that is true for everyone. Im not unique in that; its true for academics who have more of a humanistic perspective; its true for me. I think thats actually a helpful thing because ideally in academia, even though this is not always how it plays out, you have people criticizing everything. I think I bring that to academia. I do criticize things that perhaps other people don’t criticize.”
Universities are ample in culture and religious diversity. Variance is one of the many factors that contributes to enriching these intellectual institutions. If the proponents of diversity only exemplify the differences found only within their particle schools of thought, then what is lacking is actually the very thing they proclaim to admire. A lack of diversity amongst the diverse is stagnate uniformity and intellectually impoverishing for all.