The craft of Christian higher education — Dr. Susan Felch

Updated: Sep 23

The Craft of Christian Higher Education

Dr. Susan FELCH


Susan FELCH (FELCH) is the Director of Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and a Professor at the Department of English in Calvin College, USA. Her numerous publication include: Az: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1999);  Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith (2001); and Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season (2006). 

FELCH attempts to understand Christian higher education as a craft, being situated within a tradition that extends historically across cultures but that is also locally inflected, counterbalances the abstract notion of "integration" by re-positioning our academic work as skilled labor. A “Craft” focuses our attention on tradition, apprenticeship, well-chosen materials and tools, and artifacts, creating an image that can help to transform the modern University into an inculturation, faithfully Christian academic endeavor. 


FELCH revisits "the integration of faith and learning" and raises three important points. The first point is that this is not the only way that faithful Christians have imagined their mission in higher education. Second, the term is not self-defining. Third, the word "integration" itself is problematic which tends to subtly reinforce the very dualism that it wishes to avoid. In each case, integration itself presumes the existence and coming together of two or more entities. FELCH reiterates that craft was not a master metaphor for Christian higher education. It cannot do all the work of guiding and supporting Christian colleges and universities. It does however open up different ways of thinking about and practising intentional Christian higher education. 


How do we align our Christian faith with the fact that the majority of what we teach and study was discovered, composed, and divided by people who do not share our faith commitments? FELCH looks into the model of "craft" in Exodus. Echoed with Augustine and other commentators, she notes that the Israelites used the gold plundered from Egyptian to craft the Golden calf and later the tabernacle. The raw materials at hand are not in any way distinctively spiritual or other-worldly. Scholar and teacher in every cultural setting excavates his or her learning "out of the Mines of God's providence" which is a creation not of their own making. There are at least three important implications that flow from this fact of the given-ness of creation for our teaching, learning, and scholarship. A Christian university in Hong Kong should use the stuff from the soil of Hong Kong as a Christian College in Michigan should use the stuff from upper Mid-West America. Our scholarship, teaching, and learning however, should conform to the grammar of the Christian faith. 


The word "craft" in English is originally meant as strength, power, might, or force, in addition to the connotations of skills or skillfulness that most cultures associate intuitively with a craft. Understanding ourselves as "credible teachers" and our students as apprentices should shape the ways in which we pay attention to every single detail in our classroom. These details shape apprentices into the masters they will become. FELCH reminds us that we are crafters - of our research, of our students, of our own learning- but we are not the creators. A profound gratitude and humility ought to ground everything we do as teachers and scholars: gratitude that we are invited to touch and mold such wonderful materials. All scholars are to hold our homework lightly, committed to constant revisiting and revising of all we do. We need to choose our tools (that is, our methodologies, our theories etc.) carefully.


FELCH further expounds that every Christian scholar should periodically set aside time to look for knotty problems in the disciplines of professions and to search for resources in the Christian tradition that may need them to a sharper tool that will allow them and the student apprentices to craft a more beautiful, useful, delightful artifact. We become better Christian researchers and teachers to the extent that we intentionally asked about every scholarly project, every lecture, every syllabus, every activity in the classroom - what am I crafting here? what artifact will I hand to my students? What do I help them to make or will I help them to shape? To what extent is this artifact shaped by the grammar of the Christian Faith? FELCH concludes that we would be aware of working within a tradition, the embrace of an apprenticeship model, respect for materials and tools, and the recognition that the educational enterprise makes things have wide-ranging implications. It also reminds us to fully engage what is local. A well-crafted text will fit its local context. A well-crafted Christian University will meet the needs of the culture it serves.


基督教高等教育的一門工藝


蘇珊法芝(法芝教授)是美國加爾文大學基督教學術研究中心的主任及英文系教授。 她有甚多的學術著作,範圍是包括基督教信仰和歷史文學的。


法芝教授嘗試應用「手工藝」創作的概念去了解基督教高等教育,如何身處於一個教育傳统中而能夠跨越當代文化、既能夠延伸歷史又可以展現出本土的特性來。 她為基督教高等教育重新定位為一門熟練的「手工藝」,目的是尋求平衡「信仰與學術整合」的理解。 「手工藝」的聚焦點是在掌握傳統,學徒技藝,物料揀選和工具,以及人工製品,去創造一個新的形象、促進現代化大學教育的更新,使之成為一些既能深入文化、又可以忠實地展示出基督教信仰的學術活動來。


法芝教授重新檢視「信仰和學術的整合」的課題、並提出了三個重點。 第一:「信仰和學科的結合」並不是基督教高等教育使命的唯一出路。 第二,「信仰和學術的整合」本身並沒有一個清楚的定義。 第三,「整合」一詞本身也強化了它想避免的二分法,假設了兩個或更多實體的存在。法芝教授說明「手工藝」亦不是基督教高等教育的唯一比喻,因它也是不能提供充足的指引和支援基督教大學的所有工作,但它卻可以開拓不一樣的思考方法、去實踐基督教高等教育的使命。


事實上,法芝教授也承認,我們大部分的教學和研究材料的發現、製作與分類等均是來自信仰與我們不相同的人士,我們究應如何能將這些材料與我們的信仰連結起來呢? 法芝教授建議我們參考《聖經》《出埃及記》的「手工藝」製造的模式。 她也與奧古斯丁和其他學者有相同的看法,他們均是留意到以色列人運用了他們從埃及人手中搶奪過來的黃金去製造金牛犢和後來的約櫃工藝品,而他們手上的原材料並不是完全屬靈的、或是屬於另一個世界的材料。 同樣地,現代的學者和老師們在他們所處的每一個文化處境中、也在發掘當地的文化、作為「神所賦予他們本地的礦產」,去完成他們的新創作。 法芝教授認為一所香港的基督教大學,也同樣地必須是應用香港本土的材料,正如一所在美國的基督教大學也必須是應用美國本土的材料一樣。 當然,我們的學術研究和教學等卻應該是能夠符合和配合基督教的信仰的。


「手工藝」一詞的英文原意,除了包涵著手工和技藝之外,也是指向有力量、能力和權能等含意的。 因此,我們必須明白: 基督教教育是一門工藝,我們的學生是學徒,我們更要留意如何能夠塑造他們成為將來的手工藝作品的大師。 法芝教授提示我們在製造工藝品的同時、應該有一種深摯感恩和謙卑的態度,感恩就是為著我們是被邀請去接觸和應用這些奇特的材料。所有的工藝者也必須要小心地處理和選擇各樣的材料,包括是應用一些與手工藝相關的方法和理論等。


法教授也進一步解釋: 每一位基督徒學者均應該花些時間定期檢視我們不同專業的議題,以及在基督教傳統裏尋找資源,以致我們能夠應用更佳的工具去塑造我們的學生成為一個更加有用和合神心意的工藝者。我們也要成為更好的基督徒老師和研究員,在每一次講課和課堂活動都要認真地反問自己:我現在塑造的是什麼?這件工藝品的塑造是符合基督教信仰的要求嗎? 法芝教授最後總結:我們應該留意的是我們是身處在一個有信仰的教育傳統裏, 亦是應用著一種特定的學徒模式,必須要尊重當地提供給我們的物料和工具,更要確認我們所從事的教育工作是具有深遠和廣闊的影響的。 因為我們所從事的基督教教育工作必須要是本色化的,因為一個好的「手工藝」必定是要適切本土的處境,而基督教大學作為一所優良的「手工藝塑造所」,它所提供的基督教教育也必須是要適切所服侍對象當地文化的需要的。

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