A christian Critique of the University Dr. Charles Habib Malik

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A Christian Critique of the University

Dr. Charles Habib Malik

Dr. Charles Habib Malik (1906-1987) completed his academic career as the Jacques Maritain Distinguished Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He held numerous research chairs and administrative positions at American and Middle Eastern universities. The Western world knew and revered Dr. Malik primarily as an international diplomat. He served the United Nations in a variety of positions, including chairing the committee which drafted the final text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948.

We are pleased to present the first three chapters of Dr. Malik's influential and stirring book, A Christian Critique of the University, first published in 1982. Few people can match Dr. Malik's credentials to critique "the mind and spirit of the university." He was an outstanding scholar with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard, under Alfred North Whitehead, and over fifty honorary doctorates from such universities as Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Notre Dame, and Freiburg. Throughout his career he published articles and books on philosophical, diplomatic, and international matters in America, Europe, and the Middle East. Dr. Malik also served universities throughout his life. In his own country, he was a founding member of the Lebanese Academy. He was chairman of the philosophy department at the American University, Beirut, then Dean of Graduate Studies; from 1962 to 1976 he was Distinguished Professor of Philosophy.

The authority with which Dr. Malik declaims against the university comes also from a larger sphere, that of an international diplomat. He was a signatory for Lebanon of the United Nations Charter in 1945. He served the U.N. for fourteen years, at various times as President of the General Assembly and of the Security Council. More than twelve countries decorated him for his contributions to human rights and international peace.

Yet the prophetic tone of this address, first given at the University of Waterloo's Pascal Lectures, flows primarily from Dr. Malik's living faith in Jesus Christ. As John North, Chairman of the Pascal Lectures, observed in his foreword to the book from which these chapters are drawn, "Seldom does a man so love those who may not agree with him that he reinforces their strengths while standing firmly in the face of their disagreement: one senses how much he is aware of being lovedand forgivenhimself. It is enough to set one in pursuit of Malik's Master."


The university is one of the greatest creations of Western civilization. There is the family, the church, the state, the economic enterprise, the professions, the media and the university. These seven institutions with all their living traditions and with all that they mean constitute the substance of Western civilization. And while in other civilizations there are families, religious institutions, states, institutions for the creation of goods and wealth, a profusion of crafts and professions, and even certain public modes of disseminating information, the university, as universally recognized today, is more distinctive of Western civilization than of any other.

The original model of this institution is the Brotherhood of Pythagoras and the Academy of Plato. All universities trace their ultimate origin to these two ancient Greek intellectual communities. The Lyceum of Aristotle was an offshoot of the Academy. And while, of course, there are universities today in all cultures and civilizationsin China, India, Africa and the Islamic worldthese universities, to gain world recognition and respect, namely, to gain admission into the world fraternity of universities, find themselves increasingly compelled to pattern their organization and curriculum after the models obtaining in the Heidelbergs, the Sorbonnes, the Oxfords and the Harvards of the West. Every non-Western university, as a university, has either copied the principles and structural lines of its existence (including for the most part its curricula) from Western universities, or is run by scholars and administrators trained either in Western universities or under other scholars themselves trained in Western universities. The converse is not true: Western universities do not depend on non-Western universities either for the curricula of their schools and departments or for the methodologies of their disciplines. Moreover, non-Western universities cannot hold their own, as universities, except by maintaining intimate, and sometimes organic, relations with Western universities, and by keeping unbrokenly abreast of the immense scientific and scholarly productivity of the Western centers of learning and research.

From Pythagoras and Plato to the present the Western university has developed under autonomous laws of its own, quite unaffected by intellectual happenings outside its own tradition. The original Greek thrust could not have been deflected or substantially modified by the little that has been transpiring in non-Western realms. The Arab-Islamic learning of Baghdad and Cordoba, which helped stimulate the awakening of the West afterward, was itself originally ignited by this thrust. Under the West in this connection I include of course the universities of the Soviet Union because the great Soviet universities antedated the Revolution of 1917 and were all grounded in the university concept of the West.

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