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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A School On A Hill: Oxford Graduate School

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

DAYTON, TENNESSEE (ANS) -- Before arriving in Dayton, Tennessee, I knew only one thing about the town of roughly 7,000 people: it was in Dayton that the famous Scopes Trial took place.

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan pictured during the Scopes trial in 1925

The story is well told in books and movies. In 1925, the city was the center of the media world when William Jennings Bryan sparred with Clarence Darrow over the instruction on the theory of evolution by a high school science teacher named John T. Scopes.

In the end, Bryan won the legal case, and Scopes was convicted of teaching against divine creation (interesting to me, 84 years later, the reverse is true: it is illegal to teach divine creation, but that’s another story.)

To some, Dayton represents the backwoods fundamentalism of “non-thinking” Christianity.

But as I would soon find out, Dayton was spawning a new level of scholarship and Christian worldview training — all through a small, graduate program named Oxford Graduate School.

I was in Dayton to be inducted as a Fellow of the school. In the world of education, a Fellow is a person nominated to a university or college for research and academic purposes.

Brian Nixon (left) and Peter Riola, Society of Scholars at Oxford Graduate School

To be honest, I knew little of Oxford Graduate School before my provost at St. Alcuin’s Seminary, Dr. Peter Riola, submitted my name for induction.

Because Dr. Riola was my dissertation supervisor and the guest speaker at the Society of Scholars dinner — sponsored by Oxford — I was privileged to join him for the ceremonies and the induction service.

Through the course of my two days at Oxford, I began to get a glimpse of a unique approach toward Christian scholarship, sensing that this school had something distinct and special to offer.

Oxford’s mission statement is simple: to equip interdisciplinary Christian scholar practitioners; to sociologically integrate religion and society in order; and to transform the family, church, and community worldwide.

These are noble goals, but what impressed me more than anything was the small group of graduates who implemented these ideals in an array of dissertation topics: curriculum development, non-profit legal status, marriage and family studies, and the Rwandan genocide.

As I sat listening to the abstract presentations given by the students, I began to get excited about what Oxford Graduate School was producing in its students: student-scholars who seriously confront important subjects, academic themes, and social issues with honesty, integrity, and good scholarship, all the while informed by a Christian worldview.

Speaking with other Fellows, professors, and graduates, I began to internalize how exceptional Oxford is. It is not a seminary, but rather a graduate school set up for the training of cultural leaders.

Oxford Graduate School, Dayton, Tennessee

As the school’s name implies, it is informed by the British system of education — yet transcends simply copying Oxford or any other British school. Rather, Oxford Graduate School has a unique and distinctive approach to training cultural leaders.

As I wandered the campus, I heard over and over again — from anyone associated with the school — “we yearn to be world changers.”

According to the school, “Real learning occurs as you dialogue and interact, not just with the faculty, but with other scholars from all over the globe and from all types of social professions.”

Simply put, Oxford Graduate School integrates a variety of academic fields and intellectual pursuits within a comprehensive educational context. The school longs for its students to gain a widespread understanding of the world in which we live—assessing the problems, issues, and ills from a variety of viewpoints.

As one can imagine, research, reading, and thorough scholarship is at the heart of Oxford Graduate School. As I looked at the required research trips (Oxford, England and the Library of Congress, among them), I gained insight into how seriously the school stresses widespread research and development.

Oxford Graduate School was founded in 1981 by Dr. Hollis Green as an interdisciplinary and research school, with the sole purpose of providing educational opportunities for specialist in the social professions. It has faithfully pursued this path with excellence.

Now 28 years later, with official accreditation and marvelous academic fruits, Oxford is seeking to take its unique approach into the 21st century with renewed enthusiasm.

Through my experience at Oxford Graduate School, my faith was renewed in America’s unique, Christian graduate programs.

I believe that schools like Oxford need to grapple with real world issues in a scholarly manner, all the while being informed by the historic Christian faith. Schools and colleges need to project the light of knowledge—and the light of the kingdom of God through the power of the Gospel — into all the world.

As Jesus Himself proclaimed to His followers, “You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14).

And this little graduate school set on a hill in Dayton, Tennessee, is doing just that: shining light.

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Brian Nixon is a pastor, writer, musician, and family man. He currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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