Religion, Sectarianism, and the Pursuit of Truth: Reexamining Academic Freedom in the Twenty-First Century

By Kenneth Garcia


The one hundredth anniversary of the AAUP in 2015 offers us an opportunity to consider how the concept of academic freedom might evolve in the future. In this essay I offer a friendly critique of our customary understanding of academic freedom, not because the principle of it is wrong but because our understanding of it is incomplete. This incompleteness leads to shortcomings in the practice of academic freedom, shortcomings that need to be addressed, particularly in religiously affiliated institutions. I make my case in three steps: (1) I examine sectarian obstacles—both religious and secular—to academic freedom; (2) I offer a brief history of the development of academic freedom in the United States and show why it is not always as freeing in practice as its ideal suggests; and (3) I propose a theological understanding of academic freedom that not only builds on and incorporates existing principles but also completes them, leading to a fuller understanding of academic freedom for the twenty-first century.

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