Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Evangelism and academic rigour in the Highlands

There was a very interesting letter in Tuesday's Inverness Courier which I reproduce in full:

Little chance of training in intellectual rigour


Like Graeme Mochrie (Courier 4.7.08) I became an increasingly concerned member of the audience at the recent Eden Court Lecture by Rev Prof Andrew McGowan, Principal of Highland Theological College.

This is clearly an Evangelical Christian Institution first, and, an academic one very much second. Prof McGowan's honest answers to questions on attitudes within the college to creationism and to homosexuality, together with the heated debate at the 2006 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, prior to approval of the college to provide the academic training for Church of Scotland ministers and readers, all suggest a college unsuited to a future as the equivalent of the divinity faculty of a fully functioning UHI.

Last week I was privileged as a guest to attend a graduation ceremony at the University of Aberdeen where one of the main academic speakers referred to the new graduates going out into the world with minds trained to be "sceptical, curious and intellectually rigorous." Not much chance of that at the Highland Theological College I fear.

Floris Greenlaw (Mrs), Knockchoille, Druimkinneras, Kiltarlity, Beauly

It so happens that I too have attended a talk given by the Rev Prof Andrew McGowan a couple of years ago, although the subject wasn't principally about theology (he was giving a light-hearted talk about his experiences as a Chaplian on board cruises run by The National Trust for Scotland [of which I have for decades been a member]), I have to say that at the time some of the supposedly humorous comments he made left me feeling distinctly unamused.

What is interesting about the letter, though, is that it states loud and clear just what the principal focus of Highland Theological College is and the writer's worries about the academic rigour to be expected of such an organisation in its projected role as a 'divinity college' of the future UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands). On the other hand, why this is a surprise to anyone is a surprise to me; I have long considered this part of Scotland (and particularly those parts of the country north and west of Inverness) to be the 'bible belt' of Britain - you know, the part of the country where a hotel owner made a terrific fuss a few years ago about renting a room to a gay couple (see also here). It's not only in the north of Scotland that this kind of thing happens, unfortunately. The poor old Rev Prof Andrew McGowan is merely reflecting the rather squalid religious pond in which he swims. And for anyone who reads this and takes offence at my blunt remarks - tough!

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