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Inside Track: Big Issues in the University

Bringing faith and hope to the conversations of the academy.

Ross McKenzie

Throughout history, universities have been places where people engage with big questions: from the meaning of life to the means of human flourishing. Lives, worldviews, and culture are shaped by the conversations that take place in the university.

These debates and conversations provide opportunities for IFES students to bring a Christian perspective to bear on these issues, to demonstrate how the Bible speaks with contemporary relevance, and to respond to the opposing ideologies they encounter on campus.

Engaging the whole of the university

IFES has a growing concern to engage the whole of the university — undergraduate students, PhD students, researchers, faculty, administrators, and service staff — and to engage with the various teaching and research agendas.

The concept of engaging the university is one of the strategic priorities of the IFES Living Stones vision. It was also one of the tracks at the IFES World Assembly in 2015, with ongoing conversations supported by a Facebook group and a regular email list. In Australia, I am also part of the Simeon Network, a group of academics affiliated with AFES Australia.

The interactions within these groups have been much more intellectually stimulating and personally challenging than anything I’ve experienced within the university; in part because of the focus on big issues, but ultimately because theology is so relevant to academic life; whether in ethics, in questions of philosophy and politics, or in science.

Big Issues in the University

As part of the IFES Engaging the University ministry, we are about to start a new project which seeks to help students consider how to bring a Christian heart and mind to the university, to inspire Christian conversations across the academic world, and to better serve the academic community. There are many great conversations already taking place, and the aim of this project is to further pioneer, facilitate, and connect such global conversations.

The Big Issues in the University initiative plans to share resources across national movements, inspiring, nurturing and cultivating Christian minds across higher education.

As part of the initial pilot project, regional consultations will take place in six of the 11 IFES regions, involving staff, faculty and students. The consultations will seek to clarify the theological questions at hand, and what resources will be needed to drive the project further forward.

I had the privilege to lead one such consultation, together with Vinoth Ramachandra (leader of the IFES Engaging the University ministry), in India last year. I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm of participants, how isolated many are from like-minded people, and of the need for good mentoring and networking opportunities.

With its broad, international, grass-roots network, IFES is well placed to serve communities like these who are often disconnected from one another.

The initial stages of the Big Issues in the University project aims to provide solid data about existing activities, and what resources — such as study guides, videos, networking events and training — are needed and might be usefully developed or provided by IFES.

What are the issues being discussed at your university?

We would love to find out more about the issues being discussed at your university, how you are engaging in those conversations, and what resources or support you might find helpful.

Join the IFES Engaging the University Facebook group to connect with others and to take part in an upcoming survey.

If you have specific questions or would like to find out more about the Big Issues in the University project, contact Helena Worrall (IFES Strategic Projects Officer): helena.worrall@ifesworld.org


Ross McKenzie is a Professor of Physics at the University of Queensland, Australia. He was an undergraduate at the Australian National University and received a PhD from Princeton University, USA. His scientific research uses quantum theory to understand the properties of complex materials. He enjoys writing two blogs: Soli Deo Gloria: Thoughts on theology, science, and culture, and a blog closely related to his scientific research, Condensed Concepts.

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