What Is "Excursus"? Academia Reframed

What is Excursus?

In a previous post, we explained that we believe faith has become an excursus on college campuses and that we as Christians are largely to blame for this. For this reason, we have called our consulting targeted to serve this need "Excursus." Through Excursus, we want to change the conversation for Christians and involved with universities such that they see how their Christian faith is not a sidenote, appendix, or digression from intellectual investigation, but that it is the starting point or main narrative of their educational experience. We believe that we are serving an incredible need, especially in our shifting culture, and the statistics from the earlier post, as well as the testimonies of students and ministers, demonstrate that.

But, if we're honest, we've had a difficult time explaining exactly what it is that we do in order to change the conversation. So, I posed this challenge to some of the students who have been going through Excursus: "We are having a hard time explaining what exactly we do here in Excursus. Can you help us by telling your story about the work we've done and how it has been impactful for you?" Nahrie Chung, Princeton '17,  took that challenge head on.

Here's what she says:

There is truth in the statement that it's difficult to describe what Novum does, because Novum is doing something wildly new. It is offering something that the church and the academy each do not offer currently: a robust yet redemptive framework that calls students to engage the most compelling material from the Western liberal arts tradition, identify the potential theological premises girding so-called 'secular' thinking, and wrestle through them in community, all within a setting modeled after the top universities' own preceptorial-style of learning.

This, in part, describes the new nature of what we do. We are taking several different models for education and blending them into a model of discipleship for students, as well as consulting with other ministries to implement this sort of discipleship.

But there's more to the story. 

Academia Reframed

Nahrie continues:

Unlike the Ivory Tower experience, however, Novum challenged me to import the very truth foundational to my worldview and make moves from that central message. The understanding is not, "Here is your faith, and here is your work Try to integrate." The understanding is, "God is here--now how does the rest of the university and your education draw its relevance from Him?" As a senior in the Politics department at Princeton, I look back and realize I was trying to live out an insufficient understanding of the gospel; that is, I examined the mountain of political philosophy before me and wore myself out dancing around the mountain waving a Bible in my hand. Little did I know that if I examined my field from an eternal perspective, the mountain contained glimpses of God's perfect justice and His shalom to come, of course currently amidst much distortion of those very good things. Politics could be seen as an emanation of His glory.
I'm wild with excitement now because Novum had me grab ahold of this eternal perspective by investigating Anselm and Locke and other philosophy-fathers in a whole new way. Now I am able to approach my senior thesis (approximately 100 pages of original scholarship) with confidence, rigor, and renewed hope. I can assure you that Novum is on track to do something incredible for undergraduates all over America, and I got to be a part of it.

I love this testimony for so many reasons, but especially because it shows us that God is doing what we are hoping for through our work at Novum. Novum's mission is to reframe human vocation in light of God making all things new. Here's how I see Nahrie's experience contextualizing that mission within the university. 

Nahrie makes the bold claim that Novum is doing something wildly new and I think her experience described above gets at the heart of what the new thing is -- and in line with our mission, this new thing is not a complete overhaul of ministry, it's simply a reframing of the conversation. Nahrie wrote that we are not trying to integrate faith and work. Rather, we are starting from the premise that "God is here -- now how does the rest of the university and your education draw its relevance from him?" As a result, Nahrie  is not trying to see how a "secular politics" could be engaged by a "faithful Christian." She begins by seeing that politics is a part of God's world and therefore is not a "secular" endeavor from the beginning. Politics is an exciting world where she has been sent, a world that can serve as an emanation of his glory. Indeed, that's why it exists. She is no longer running around the political mountain with Gods' word in her hand, she is climbing the mountain discovering that God is already there. 

That's her starting point. That's her main narrative. That's education (and politics) reframed. 

Notice the result: approaching her research with renewed confidence, rigor, and hope. We are sending students to find new answers to old problems, but even more so to reframe the questions being asked. After all, the answers we give are only as good as the questions we ask. Through Excursus we believe that we can multiply Nahrie's story by consulting with campus ministries and local churches to include the intellectual life of students as part of discipleship. Through Excursus we can reframe what it means for us to be part of the university in light of God making all things new. 

Mark Catlin