The Quest for Truth: Zaytuna at Heterodox Academy

Dr. Omar Qureshi, provost at Zaytuna College, spoke at a fascinating Heterodox Academy event this summer. 
 
“Faith and Truth-Seeking: What is the Role of Religion in Higher Ed?” explored how secular and religious educational institutions approach truth, which Jonathan Haidt argues is the proper telos, or objective, of higher education. Haidt’s position was once normative, with words for truth and wisdom commonly featured in the seals and mottos of universities, but in recent years there has been a push to make “truth” yield to other commitments, often political ones. 
 
The participants included panelists Dr. George Harne, executive dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Saint Thomas, Dr. Ilana Horwitz, Fields-Rayant Chair of Contemporary Jewish Life at Tulane University, Dr. Omar Qureshi, and  Dr. Elizabeth Corey, director of the Baylor Honors Program, as the moderator. 
 
The dynamic discussion among these scholars, from diverse institutions with a variety of confessional backgrounds, reflected the spirit of inquiry that is so important to Zaytuna. 
 
“My own position,” recalled Dr. Qureshi, “was that secularism itself has a priori commitments in terms of its conception of freedom. The advantage of a religious institution is that we make our commitments upfront. ‘Here are my commitments that inform the cultural inquiries.’ When [institutions] think they’re neutral, it can make them blind to their own commitments.” 
 
He explained that viewpoint diversity and explicit acknowledgment of one’s foundational beliefs strengthen sound truth-seeking, as reflected in the orthodox Sunni tradition of rational inquiry. In this tradition, a seeker can come from any point of view and engage in debate, following the rules of the dialectic. This is reflected at Zaytuna, whose faculty represent a variety of backgrounds. 

“Our Christian faculty members are teaching as Christians. They are not hiding nor keeping their intellectual commitments and religious commitments hidden. We all speak from our own points of view,” observed Dr. Qureshi. “When the panel heard about the diversity of our faculty, they were all very happily surprised. We anchor all our discussions and all our inquiries in the liberal arts– something that is common across all of these traditions.” 

“When [institutions] think they’re neutral, it can make them blind to their own commitments.”

In contrast, he noted, “In the secular academy, depending on what your commitments are, you could be excluded.” Rational inquiry, once the common foundation for academic debate, allows true discussion to flourish, rather than a clash of identities and personae.  
 
At Zaytuna College, this rational inquiry and dialectic approach to discussion is taken seriously. Dr. Qureshi was delighted to be part of this discussion at Heterodox Academy and looks forward to more conversations with them in the coming year. 

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