Letter to the Editor: How Does Lighthouse Trails Determine if a College Should Be on the Contemplative College List?
To Lighthouse Trails:
I was given your email info. by Stand Up For The Truth on Facebook.
There was some information (a list of colleges) they posted on Aug. 2 titled Christian Colleges That Promote Contemplative Prayer. Stand Up For The Truth told me that you were the researcher responsible for the information they posted & that I could contact you directly with my question. What I’m curious about is how you went about collecting the information to come to the conclusions you did & what exactly determines whether or not the colleges are practicing contemplative methods . . . did you give the different college administrations a questionnaire, or survey the students, or was there some other means by which you came to the conclusions you did to identify which colleges practice contemplative prayer? Any insight you can provide to back up the claims would be helpful. Thank you so much! ________
Thank you for your question. First, what we say on our Contemplative College list is “Christian Colleges that Promote Contemplative (i.e., Spiritual Formation).” So it may not be in every case that students are actually being initiated into the practice of contemplative meditation; but the school is promoting contemplative spirituality to the students.
As for how we collect our information, we have a number of different methods:
1) Most of the time when we write about a particular college or seminary, we were first contacted by a parent of a student attending or by alumni, who tell us they have experienced or witnessed firsthand the promotion of contemplative spirituality. This is usually what draws our attention to a school in the first place, which leads us to begin our research;
2) Our research begins on the school’s website, which will give us the majority of the information (book lists, syllabi, chapel schedules, recommended reading lists, mission activities, youth ministry outreaches, conferences and other events, retreats attended, associations, and so forth);
3) We also research on the Internet, which leads us to professor blogs and other information about the school that may not be on their website;
4) We often look at archived Internet cache files to see the school’s historical development of promoting contemplative;
5) We sometimes, but not always, speak directly either by e-mail or phone with professors and sometimes even college presidents. When this happens, we always offer to send that person a complimentary copy of A Time of Departing and/or Faith Undone. (Note: For those reading this post who are wondering if we are Scripturally obligated to contact a school before placing them on the list – i.e., a Matthew 18 situation – we would refer you to our statement on Matthew 18, which explains the difference between a private dispute between two believers and a public instance of teaching dangerous false doctrine.)
As for what gets a school on the list in the first place, it’s a variety of criteria. We don’t just put schools on the list if they are using the term “Spiritual Formation,” although in nearly every case (almost 100%), schools that are using that term are promoting contemplative spirituality to one degree or another. Some of the criteria includes the following. A particular school does not necessarily meet all the criteria but does in at least two areas:
1) Using the term Spiritual Formation (we also look for other “buzz” words such as missional, Christian spirituality, vintage Christianity, emerging, the silence, sacred space, etc.).
2) Using textbooks written by contemplative or emerging authors;
3) Bringing in contemplative/emerging speakers to chapel;
4) Having students attending contemplative retreats;
5) Recommended reading lists by professors, deans, chaplains, and presidents include contemplative/emerging authors;
6) Syllabi for courses include contemplative textbooks, recommended reading, and/or practicum experiences required for students that include the spiritual disciplines (which in nearly every case includes silence and solitude);
7) Sending students to conferences and other events where contemplative speakers will be teaching the students;
8) Professor blogs clearly identifying affinity toward contemplative/emerging spirituality;
9) We often look at library books being brought in. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the school is promoting contemplative, it does tell us that there is an interest);
10) If a school is promoting any of the following, this is a sure-tell indication that the school is a contemplative school: a) Henri Nouwen; b) the desert fathers; c) lectio divina; d) breath prayers; e) Ignatius practices; f) centering prayer; g) the labyrinth; h) Richard Foster or Dallas Willard; i) Ruth Haley Barton
11) If a school is accredited by ATS or ABHE, that is a strong indication that the school may be contemplative-promoting or at least beginning to head that way. Both associations require member schools to incorporate “Spiritual Formation” into their programs (see our special report).
12)Aside from textbooks, we look at other books in the bookstore, which tells us the students are being exposed to contemplative even if they are not being used in the classroom in that particular school.
This is not a comprehensive explanation of all we do, but for the most part, it covers the bases of how a school ends up on the list. There have been a few instances over the years (only 2 or 3) where a school landed on the list, and then later we learned that school had reversed going in the contemplative direction (perhaps after reading A Time of Departing or other similar material) and we thus removed the name from the list.
Here are some of the past articles we have written on Christian colleges going contemplative (you can use our search engine to find more):