Paradigms and Aims within the Academy

Paradigms and Aims within the Academy

I continue my thoughts on Peter Enn’s article, “Can Evangelical Colleges and Seminaries Be Truly Academic Institutions?” Also, see James McGrath’s contribution here. I briefly gave some of my own thoughts here and here.

The issue that Peter Enn’s is addressing has to do with the aims and paradigm of a particular program or institution. The study of religion, on any level, can be divided into two aims: Theological Studies and Religious Studies. Theological studies are often confessional in nature; its subcategories often involve Old Testament studies, New Testament studies, Historical studies, Pastoral studies and Homiletics. However, religious studies are often not confessional in nature, instead, they are scientific. The aims of scientific programs are often geared more toward the Theory of Religions, Comparative Religion, and Historical-Critical studies. By the way, these subcategories are in no way intended to be conclusive. However, within academia as a whole, each program typically ascribes to one of these aims.

Additionally, different paradigms are at work. In my own experience within a conservative-evangelical institution, there is more of a “Doctrinal-Fundamentalist Paradigm.”1 They typically assume the biblical narrative to be a pristine historical record, which is sacred and divine. In fact, it is often the beginning of their epistemology.  As an example, conservative-evangelical institutions are typically not interested in a critical analysis of the biblical text unless studied with apologetical intent. Though there are some exceptions to this I suppose.

In the mainstream academy—where I am now a student—there is for the most part, a more “Scientific Positivist Paradigm”2 at work. A paradigm which was shaped by enlightenment ideals in order to free itself from ecclesiastical dogma. Therefore, overall, the approach is historical. In fact, it is seen as a “historical science, which uses specific critical methods in order to evaluate historical sources, which are understood as data and evidence.”3

At the end of the day, the lines in academia are not always clear. However, I think, I have illustrated the “general” framework for the differences between mainstream universities and conservative-evangelical institutions. However, I must stress that what I have layed out here is not always the case. For example, some more conservative institutions are now in the habit of combining both NT and OT studies with historical-critical approaches.


1. Elisabeth Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethic: the Politics of Biblical Studies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 39.

2. Ibid., 41.

3. Ibid.