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The Vocation of the University

Just as individuals have a vocation might universities also have a vocation, a particular role and calling?

Rowan Williams' sermon, given at the University of Oxford in 2004 seeks to find a way between a narrow functionalist view of the university and a romantic view of universities as places purely for the pursuit of knowledge. Instead, Williams suggests that universities should have a distinctive role in preparing students to be public servants, practiced in the arts of thinking, of logical argument and of moral reasoning. Graduates should be willing and able to serve the common good.

As Christians in Academia students discussed this reading they perceived that the current vision of most universities falls far short of Williams ideal, but that there may be increasing sympathies for a reinvigoration of public discourse and a growing desire to serve the common good.

Read the whole sermon here.

'Reasonable conversation...assumes that differences can be talked about without being abolished; that justice is therefore both possible and difficult; and that the learning of the tools of thought is a preparation for public life in the sense that it expresses a profound faith in speech itself - or perhaps better, in speaking and listening, in the actions of understanding. The challenge to any institution of higher learning these days is to draw out these public dimensions of the intellectual life. The best reply to the narrow functionalism and economism that so often dominate discussions of HE is not to lament the passing of an intellectual world in which the private pursuit of excellence was all-important; that world is something of a fantasy. It is to insist upon the university's role in nourishing honest and hopeful speech, for the sake of a properly reasonable culture and politics.'
Rowan Williams, Oxford University Commemoration Day Sermon 2004.