Professor Mary Poplin discusses the role of faith in a scholarly life

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Less secularization of universities and more consideration of spiritual perspectives within academic circles was the subject of SMU’s Veritas Forum Wednesday.

“I believe that secularism has hurt the university because we end up being poorly educated,” Professor Mary Poplin said.

The educational studies professor at Claremont Graduate University spoke in the O’Donnell Auditorium in the Owen Arts Center Wednesday night. The Veritas Forum, sponsored by the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, brings speakers to campus each year to discuss faith-based issues facing college students. A mix of about 40 students, faculty, and members of the Dallas community attended the hour-long presentation, entitled “Is Reality Secular?”

Poplin discussed the beginnings of her own spiritual life, and she expressed her views on the clash between science and Christianity.

“I just don’t think there’s any conflict. A lot of people in science are Christians and they don’t seem to have any trouble. And I think that’s just a myth that’s perpetrated by people who don’t want you to believe you can be a Christian and a scientist at the same time,” Poplin said.

Poplin spent a large part of her life as a non-Christian, although she claims to have been very spiritual. She described what inspired her to tackle this topic, and why it was important to share her revelations.

“It was because I had such a struggle trying to intellectually understand what were all these different theories and things. Where did they come from?” She said.

Audience members found that she offered a well-rounded collegiate perspective.

“I think she had some really strong arguments to make,” SMU alumna Roza Essaw said.

Poplin argued that if there can be coexistence between Christianity and modern science, then there is room in the educational sphere for sharing both secular and spiritual perspectives. However, at many universities there is a lack of expression of Christian worldviews.

“Because of that the university can’t be the open marketplace of ideas anymore. And in a way it denies pluralism which is one of its highest goals, because it doesn’t include all things,” Poplin said. “And it does end up reducing free speech, it reduces speech to those people who are allowed to speak, and those people who are not allowed to speak, whatever worldview isn’t as in fashion in whatever field at the moment.”

As a professor of educational studies, Poplin believes it is important that there be a holistic approach taken to teaching. She claims that universities today only teach a secular perspective, but there is much to be learned from examining the spiritual outlook.

“It’s limiting it to a particular kind of dialogue and a particular frame where you can only see things through one lens,” Poplin said.

“I’m not Christian, but it was a very interesting perspective,” graduate student Sandra Ostad said. “I think she has a good point when she says that Christianity and religious knowledge is not considered, because it’s considered biased and it’s considered untruth in a way.”

Poplin emphasized her own experiences from her time as college student and her time now spent as a university professor, and she described how she wants students to understand all viewpoints relating to a subject.

“I have definitely seen it in my own personal experience, both here at SMU and as a graduate student in London,” Essaw said. “I do think that as much as the secular language claims to be very open minded, as the speaker pointed out, it’s not.”

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