According to our author, not only do we inhabit a postmodern world, but we are now entering a new period: the post-secular. And nowhere is this more evident than in academia. Sommerville's thesis is that secularization (and please note that he has a very nuanced definition of that word) has left the American university impoverished and increasingly irrelevant. He portrays an American culture in which religion is pervasive and influential, while the intellectual class gradually becomes unknown or ignored. Sommerville's prescription, if the university is to again become a significant cultural institution rather than just a vocational and technical one, is to admit that religious perspectives can inform and enrich a fundamental deficiency in the understanding of what it means to be human. The terms of that discussion are inescapably religious, and the logic of academia's mantra of tolerance should involve a place at the table-not only in the humanities, but in science and law-for those who understand and speak its language. Despite its slim profile, this book bristles with substantial arguments that consistently reveal the self-contradictory premises of ideological secularism, and underline the absurdity of academia's rather astounding assumption that everything but religion belongs in the classroom.
An Eighth Day View:
The American university has embraced a thorough secularism that makes it increasingly marginal in a society that is characterized by high levels of religious belief. The very secularization that was supposed to be a liberating influence has resulted in the university's failure to provide leadership in political, cultural, social, and even scientific arenas.
In The Decline of the Secular University, C. John Sommerville explores several different ways in which the secular university fails in its mission through its trivialization of religion. He notes how little attention is being given to defining the human, so crucial in all aspects of professional education. He alerts us to problems associated with the prevailing secular distinction between "facts" and "values." He reviews how the elimination of religion hampers the university from understanding our post-Cold War world. Sommerville then shows how a greater awareness of the intellectual resources of religion might stimulate more forthright attention to important matters like our loss of a sense of history, how to problematize secularism, the issue of judging religions, the oddity of academic moralizing, and the strangeness of science at the frontiers.
Finally, he invites the reader to imagine a university where religion is not ruled out but rather welcomed as a legitimate voice among others. Sommerville's bracing and provocative arguments are sure to provoke controversy and stimulate discussion both inside and outside the academy.