Book Review: God's Harvard

Rosin, Hanna. God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America. San Diego: Harcourt, 2007. Hardcover, 304 pages. $25.00
Purchase: Harcourt | CBD | Amazon

ISBNs: 0151012628 / 9780151012626

Subjects: Patrick Henry College, Christian higher education, colleges

Hanna Rosin has covered religion and politics for the Washington Post. She also has written for the New Yorker, the New Republic, GQ, and the New York Times. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband, Slate deputy editor David Plotz, and their two children.

For those of you who are familiar with Naomi Schaefer Riley’s God on the Quad, you will be delighted to read Hanna Rosin’s book about Patrick Henry College (PHC). When I had read in Quad that Riley’s requests to visit PHC and Liberty were denied, I was disappointed because I thought that of all the distinctively religious institutions originally part of her study, PHC and Liberty would certainly be able to give valuable insights on Christian education in addition to the chapter about Bob Jones University. But now that another writer, Hanna Rosin, has been welcomed to the campus of this new Christian college, the American public has an opportunity to learn more about one institution that is committed to a Christ-centered, liberal arts education.

Rosin’s creativity and research converge in this fascinating, well-written narrative about life at PHC. I have not yet had an opportunity to visit the Purcellville, Virgina, campus; but a virtual trip to www.phc.edu will show you how magnificent and stately the college appears. Rosin describes it this way:

The campus is tiny, less like an Ivy League college than like a Hollywood set of an old Ivy League school, with one main building and several dorms grouped around a lake, all in Federalist style. The art in Founders Hall is designed to remind the students that America was founded as a Christian nation—a gallery of portraits of the Founding Fathers, all copies, leads up the staircase to the picture of Patrick Henry at the second Virginia convention, a shaft of light from Heaven guiding his speech. (p. 13)

God’s Harvard focuses on the people, especially the students, more than on the campus itself. PHC’s reason for existence is to make an impact on American politics and society, and Rosin discovers exactly that as she investigates current students and alumni. The college attracts students who were primarily homeschooled because of the reputation of the founder and chancellor, Michael Farris, who has been a leading spokesperson for home education for decades. Oh, by the way, the national headquarters for the Home School Legal Defense Association is housed at PHC.

Rosin’s observations of the social dynamics unique to homeschooled college students are woven throughout the book. The author talks about campus life in general, and in particular she highlights several students. Derek Archer, a missionary kid from Ohio who worked on the Bush 2004 campaign immediately following high school, looks forward to a career in national politics. Elisa Muench from Idaho interned with White House strategist Karl Rove and ran for president of PHC student government. Farahn Morgan is a ballet dancer who views life differently than most of her classmates and challenges conventional thinking.

Farris challenges students to be leaders in this age he refers to as the “Joshua Generation” (see here, too), a time when society has become overrun by the giants of academic elite and our young people need to stand up for Christ to redeem our culture. It was also interesting to learn about the competitive atmosphere at PHC: the group of students known as “the 1600’s” (students who scored perfectly on the SAT), the rigorous daily schedules that students track closely in 15-minute increments in their PDAs, and the late night/early morning study marathons.

God’s Harvard is a book the SI audience would appreciate reading for several reasons. First, many of us are not familiar with PHC, and perhaps none of us ever attended there. The book provides a nice introduction to PHC, and some of the students’ stories are similar to those that happened during our own Christian college experiences.

Second, God’s Harvard is about Christian higher education, which we would agree serves as a key role in preparing men and women for lifelong service to Christ. During its brief history, PHC has made an impact already, and the college is doing innovative things that many other Christian colleges have not done, especially in law and politics. Understand, however, that PHC is an example of Christian recontructionism—the founder’s dream is to prepare Christian men and women to fill the highest offices in the country to take America back to Christ. Whether one agrees with PHC’s theological and philosophical views or not, there is much we can learn from them as an educational institution.

Finally, God’s Harvard is an institutional case study written for a popular audience. Rosin’s style is creative and engaging, and the text flows naturally from one theme to the next. It’s not very often that a nonfiction book, especially about higher education, grabs the reader’s attention and keeps it from beginning to end.

Rosin deserves much credit for the one and a half years of time and effort she spent conducting research on site for the book, and I highly recommend it.

If you want to learn more about God’s Harvard, NPR has a podcast of Hanna Rosin reading and discussing excerpts from the book here.

lovik_eric.jpgEric Lovik is director of institutional research at Clearwater Christian College (Clearwater, FL) and a doctoral candidate in higher education at Penn State University. He and his wife, Glory, enjoy traveling and playing with their two daughters at the beach.


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