Insights and awards from the 2019 ACHEA Conference

Titled Christian Education, Reason and Relevance, the conference of the Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance was held in Brisbane, Australia on 1st-2nd August, 2019.  Keynote speakers were Professor Beth Green, Dan Paterson, and Dr Shirley Hoogstra.  Beth Green is Visiting Professor for Research Integration and Educational Formation at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and a Senior Fellow at the faith-based think tank Cardus. Dan Paterson is a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries based in Brisbane, Australia and Shirley Hoogstra is the seventh president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

In addition to the keynote addresses there were 42 paper presentations on the theme of Christian education.  Some of the questions addressed at the conference were:  What is Christian education? How does it differ from secular education? What does it offer today? How does it function within the Australian education framework?

Two papers were presented by Excelsia College staff. Dr Mark Stephens spoke on Thinking as Christian Virtue: Reason and Persuasion for a Fractious Age. In summary, his paper covered the following: In 2017, the English professor Alan Jacobs penned a work entitled How to Think: A Guide for the Perplexed in which he offers strategies for improving our thinking in a fractious age. In How to Think, Jacobs outlines a “humanistic” synthesis of psychologists, anthropologists, journalists and essayists, aimed at enabling people to disagree charitably, to avoid stereotyping and caricature, and to foster virtuous conversations in which people persuade rather than domineer. While Jacobs is open about his Christian belief, his text does not include much reflection on the way Christian traditions of thinking might contribute to, or hinder, his broader project. This paper proposes to extend the work of Jacobs by considering the biblical and theological resources available for Christian educational communities to form students as virtuous participants in intellectual conversation. It builds upon the insights of virtue epistemology, a theological ethic of hospitality, and Richard Brigg’s notion of the “virtuous reader.” By considering both the content of the Christian tradition and Christian Scripture in the form of diverse testimony, this paper resources Christian teachers in developing students who will practice both rigour and humility, conviction and charity, fidelity and open-mindedness.

We congratulate Mark on the award of Best Conceptual Paper of the 2019 ACHEA conference.

Dr Maureen Miner Bridges gave a paper written by her colleague, Dr Sunaina Gowan and herself on the topic of Distinctively Christian Higher Education as the Wholistic Formation of Students.  The abstract for this paper is as follows: Christian colleges are in a unique position to honestly address the spiritual and moral issues that people of every age face daily. What is distinctively Christian about Christian higher education is the wholistic formation of students – personally, professionally and spiritually. This paper considers Excelsia College as a case study of the challenge of building a distinctively Christian higher education Institution, especially in the context of the increasing secular nature of higher education in Australia, the diminishing Christian student market and challenges brought about by the growth in international student enrolments. More specifically, this paper investigates staff perceptions of student formation and considers their understanding of the College mission and their role in the wholistic development and growth of students. Using interviews, this qualitative study aims to understand how teaching staff at Excelsia College perceive student formation, their attitudes towards the varying dimensions of formation, and how they act in ways that might promote or hinder student formation. Key findings relate to student formation as involving development of a coherent worldview as well as rich relationships; challenges to formation in cognitive, psychological and social domains; and suggested strategies for optimum formation. Staff perceptions are discussed in light of psychological theory and Trinitarian theology.

We congratulate Sunaina and Maureen on the award of Best Empirical paper of the 2019 ACHEA conference.

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