Lutheran Studies at PLU

 Core Elements in Lutheran Higher Education


“Doesn’t the world need good schools and educated persons?” With this simple question, Martin Luther urged the leaders of his nation to establish public schools for children and reshape the curriculum of universities. From that ordinary yet revolutionary question, the reform of education for the sake of service sparked the establishment of Lutheran colleges and universities throughout the world.

Within the lively intellectual tradition of Lutheran education, we present seven of its distinguishing marks. These core elements are not exhaustive – one could add more – nor are they found exclusively in Lutheran colleges and universities: most western universities, for instance, would claim that “academic freedom” remains a hallmark of higher education. Yet this cluster of elements sets forth, in our experience and reflection, the "genetic encoding" of Lutheran education, an education committed to the advance of knowledge, thoughtful inquiry and questioning, the preparation of citizens in service to the world, and its own ongoing reform. They express and support what rightly rests at the center of personal and national life: a vibrant intellectual tradition committed to asking significant questions.

 

1. Critical questioning of current knowledge and values

Early in his academic career, Martin Luther gained a reputation for questioning the economic, educational, political, religious, and social norms which many of his peers took for granted. Such enquiry can be summarized in Luther’s question, oft-repeated throughout his teaching career: “What does this mean?” Robust questioning of the status quo and received knowledge remains a core practice in Lutheran higher education. Such questioning supports the search for truth that rests at the heart of the university. Read more …

2. Freedom for expression and protection of learning

Contemporary university professors may take for granted academic freedom yet it was the 16th century reformers who advanced the notion that freedom from coercion or reprisal was the singular condition in which teaching, learning, and research could take place. A Lutheran university ensures freedom of inquiry for the sake of research and teaching according to disciplinary methods so that critical questioning, experimentation, and the advance of knowledge are supported. Read more …

3. A liberating foundation in the liberal arts

Our educational mission – to educate for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care for others, their communities and the earth – springs from the Lutheran insistence that study in the liberal arts is a liberating experiencing, freeing the learner from superstition, ignorance, solipsism, and a small life focused on the self alone. Study in the natural and social sciences, the humanities and the fine arts is a distinctive mark of Lutheran education and the indispensable foundation for a life marked by resilient ethical commitments. Read more …

4. Learning and research within community

Rather than view teaching and learning as a lonely or individual task, the founders of Lutheran education worked in a collaborative manner. Such collegial work is manifest at PLU in faculty collaborations, in student-faculty research projects, in publications and performances, and in public presentations. It is manifest in our respect for each discipline and our commitment to intellectual humility and charity.  Read more …

5. The intrinsic value of the whole creation

While raised in a hierarchical milieu marked by the separation of body from spirit, and earth from heaven, the reformers of Lutheran education came to a greater appreciation of embodied life on this earth as the arena in which God is truly present and active. Consequently, in this world, created by a loving God, no one can claim an intrinsic superiority over another by virtue of gender, race, or social status. All are of equal value and enjoy a God-given dignity and, by extension, all creation is a gift which demands wise and careful stewardship. Read more …

6. Discerning one’s vocation in the world

A distinctive element of Lutheran higher education is the insistence that humans are not called to escape this world but rather to engage this world – marked by too much ignorance, need, and injustice – with their distinctive aptitudes and skills. The Lutheran tradition claims that God, human communities, and pressing need may call an individual – through his or her unique abilities and commitments – to serve the common good. Abandonment of this world or the drive to transform this world into one’s image is not an option in Lutheran higher education. Such a living into one’s callings throughout life assumes that the maturing capacity for self-reflection and reform. Read more …

7. Service to the advancement of life, health, and wholeness

The Lutheran reformers taught that education is for something: not only the advancement of knowledge but also a commitment to the alleviation of suffering due to human or natural depredation. Thus, a Lutheran education is inextricably linked to promoting life, health, and wholeness for others, other-than-human creatures, and the earth itself. Our commitment to the promotion of peace and a just and sustainable society flows from such a commitment to wholeness.  Read more …


Editor: Dr. Samuel Torvend, University Chair in Lutheran Studies

Contributors: Dr. Lynn Hunnicutt (Economics), Dr. Doug Oakman (Religion), the Rev. Dennis Sepper (University Pastor), Dr. Samuel Torvend (Lutheran Studies), Dr. Marit Trelstad (Religion)

Copyright © 2012 Lutheran Studies at Pacific Lutheran University
No reproduction, print, or electronic transmission permitted without permission from the editor