I am not going to critique or comment about the content of what the students call "Hippie College" and "PC Summer Camp" started back in 1970. I can offer this snippet from Wikipedia's Hampshire College page...
The College is widely known for its alternative curriculum, socially liberal politics, focus on portfolios rather than distribution requirements, and reliance on narrative evaluations instead of grades and GPAs.My nephew's 92-page final paper on anti-black racism in American early cinema is smart and insightful from his overview and what I gathered perusing the copy he had. I am proud of him. And I am proud of his school. They are certainly attempting to live up to their counter-cultural and social-critical ideals.
What I noticed was the absence of faith and world religion. The spiritual life director (forgot name, sorry) gave an invocation, complete with a sung blessing referencing naturalism - the rivers, trees, land, etc. Interesting how some people around me snickered at it - I actually thought it was well-done and meaningful (...people snicker at me too). And this is my point: the commencement was entirely secular. By this I don't mean they avoided any particular faith like high school commencements have to navigate. Believe me, Hampshire students can and do say whatever they wish about whatever they wish. (Poor Bernie Sanders! They threw him under the bus as an old white guy.)
Christianity wasn't an enemy or named as part of the "totalism" or "hegemony," those controlling institutional powers that own society. My comment isn't about Hampshire commencement speakers. My comment is about our secular culture. I spent the last two months wading through Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), James Smith (How (Not) To Be Secular), Paul Jensen (Subversive Spirituality), and Miroslav Volf (Flourishing) attempting to understand our social context for my doctoral thesis. I need to zoom way out to understand our present culture.
Charles Taylor calls our present "sense" of things "Sense 3" or what Jamie Smith calls "Secularity 3," which means there was once pre-modern secularism 1 (around 1500AD/CE) a time when transcendence and religion were assumed normative. Then with the Protestant Reformation and all other western reformations in politics, culture, society, science, technology, population, worldview, etc. we moved into Secularity 2, which is driven by "subtractionism" - where society subtracts belief in God and mystery (Says: "Only superstitious idiots believe in God! Hahaha!!") Now we "have faith" in science, education, and technology to shape our brave new world. Secularity 2 was busy subtracting religion from all society and thought in the 19th and 20th centuries. (BTW, a lot of this was the church's fault says the authors.)
Miroslav Volf notes the 19th century was the height of the "mundane" or ordinary or flat world (Secularity 2) (think F. Nietzsche's 'uberman' and 'God is dead' stuff). Now we live in Secularity 3, which can be summarized by Taylor's anecdote: "I don't believe in God, but I miss him." (Uh, sorry Hampshire folk for the gendered deity reference even if you have no thought of the Transcendent). Taylor describes this third sense as knowing there is no God, but attempting to believe in faith or God. That sounds hard to do.
So Hampshire is a data point for Taylor's assessment of current culture. Hampshire is what it looks like to attempt to be mindful and transcendent and other-ness-ed, mystic, and even poetic without any concept or tools for otherness. In this Secularity 3 there is no room for the politics of Jesus or Gandhi or even MLKjr. Unfortunately, it caves in to the very hegemonic power-tools as those it critiques: judgmentalism, and "the intolerance of intolerance."
Today's (western) society "senses" something is missing and they sense it is g-d or the Transcendent but it cannot come to faith in such Otherness. I guess I thought Christianity might be thrown under the bus along with Bernie, but it didn't happen. I am kind of disappointed. Christianity didn't even make it into one of the bad-guy categories. Christianity is a non-thought. Meanwhile the secular worldview of Hampshire and most of our culture is an "unthought" (Michel Foucault), that uncritical secular water we swim in as secular fish. Secularity today doesn't even have atheism any more.
A lot of what I do in ministry these days is an attempt to position the Christian faith in this secular milieu.
In the future I will describe how Taylor shapes the way forward. (Warning: it involves "faith!")
In the meantime Hampshire grads hope to change the world, and I believe some will. They have a brilliant secular voice. And that's it.