Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs has concluded a three-year study (April 2007-2010) entitled the “Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia Project.” Originally set in motion by renowned sociologist, Dr. Peter L. Berger, the study targets “a class of intellectuals who are increasingly impacting and influencing the domains of academia, culture and public thought.” Specifically, the study seeks to challenge the notion that Evangelicalism is inherently ignorant, and culturally irrelevant by documenting the emergence of a largely unnoticed “Evangelical Intelligentsia.” The two research leaders were Principal Investigator Timothy Samuel Shah, and Senior Research Associate James C. Wallace. Generous support from the Day Foundation made it possible for a portion of the research to target younger Evangelicals under the age of 30.
American Evangelicalism has been reviled both culturally, and academically by high-profile detractors such as H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis for nearly one hundred years. Today, the polemic against Evangelicalism continues to gain a sympathetic audience due in large part to people such as Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens who have the attention of the news media. Consequently, many who move within educated circles share Michael Weisskopf’s sentiment, quoted from a controversial 1993 Washington Post article, in which he characterized Evangelicals as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”
The project adopted a three-phase methodology beginning with a major conference held at Boston University in December of 2007. Over 150 students and scholars were in attendance representing a variety of disciplines including History, Philosophy, Sociology, and Law. The second phase of research employed an Internet-based opinion survey. The final phase involved extensive firsthand interviews with students and scholars across America.
The findings were as surprising as they were compelling. The study concluded that, despite the resistance of the media, “Evangelical intellectuals constitute a highly distinct class of intellectuals.” When asked about contemporary Evangelicals currently impacting our culture, Ravi Zacharias was consistently cited as a major intellectual influence, “addressing the challenges of worldview apologetics, and answering the tough intellectual questions of faith.” One Dartmouth student in particular noted that “I get up in the morning and I listen to Ravi’s radio show, and then I know I can go out and face the day, whatever may come my way to challenge my faith.” A book summarizing the project’s research and findings is forthcoming.
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