South Asia REGIONAL CONSULTATION ON BIG ISSUES IN THE UNIVERSITY
Colombo, 12-14 November 2017
The Big Issues Consultation in Sri Lanka, 12-14 November 2017, brought together South Asian faculty, research scholars and staff from seven countries.
The consultation started with a thorough understanding of the Theology of Engaging the University: A Unique Vocation. As Vinoth Ramachandra led us in this study, we dug deep into Christian discipleship within the world of the university. The main question that dominated the study was, “why do Christian colleges/universities across the globe lose their essential or distinctive Christian culture?”. We looked at this theme based on the calling of the university to society and the church. University is the place for serious thinking, without which the university fails in its purpose. Students entering the portals of the university are inducted into a process of critical thinking across the discipline; thoroughly immersed and yet, coming out with a lot of questions that reflect on the context of the culture and polity of the society.
The group discussed trends in education in the region, including:
- Undemocratic decision making among faculty
- Hierarchy maintained within the university (students, admin, staff)
- Engineering, medical subjects are idealised/privileged
- Privatising education
- Corporate interests drive research agenda
- Distance learning and students who commute (lack of community)
- Bribery and ‘tuition’
- Political influence and rewriting of history
Ross McKenzie led us on day two with a training entitled, ‘Towards a Christian Perspective of the Academic Disciplines”. He took the participants through a worksheet that helped them consider what led to choose their respective disciplines. We explored the historical, sociological, cultural anthropological, economic and political perspectives in our disciplines and then considered how those perspectives interact with the Christian worldview. Questions were raised on the disciplines’ assumptions of God, morality, broken and flawed human systems, justice, destiny etc. As we considered these questions in our teaching and research, we were encouraged to have a clear perspective on the Theology of Creation, Theology of Revelation (general and special), Theology of Sin (structural and personal) and the Theology of Reconciliation.
“Though I have been involved in many academic, research and development related consultancy meeting and realize its importance in planning and decision making, I never expected that similar consultancy meetings such as the "Big Issue Consultation in South Asia" would be so meaningful. This meeting made me realize the need to bridge the gap between spiritual and social issues; be an example in our own field of study and institute; address the issues and challenges faced by the society in general and the academia in particular by participating in dialogues. One conversation that stood out for me was the testimony of the participant from a sensitive country who despite being the only Christian faculty in her institute and at risk of discrimination and persecution is brave enough to witness her faith.”
- Faculty Member
One participant from a sensitive country shared:
“I found the new approach to engaging the university through dialogic model seems highly relevant and promising. However, reaching this level will need much human and material resources for a country like [mine], which does not enjoy religious freedom and is yet to make much progress in both intellectual and spiritual maturity. The discussions especially in small groups indicated many similarities (socio-economic issues) and differences (historical and cultural) among South Asian countries, and also good practices that can be retrofitted to suit our context. It is very encouraging and helpful to be part of the consultancy meeting and to find a platform to meet, interact and share our experiences with professionals from different countries and diverse disciplines.”