Creating a Framework for Liberty

by Sharyn Kopf—Cedarville, Ohio

Nothing like a presidential election to turn your thoughts toward government and the history of a nation. But if you’re one of the many people whose interest in these pursuits would more accurately be called a passion, consider majoring with the history and government department at Cedarville University!

Whichever direction you’re leaning, the two subjects are inexorably intertwined. “It’s exciting to look back to our forefathers,” says Dr. David Rich, interim chair of the department and associate professor of public administration. “These godly men and women put in place a framework for the liberties we enjoy today.” Connecting the two subjects also reminds the department of the different roles each of us play in the electoral process.

For Rich and the rest of the faculty, the integration of Scripture throughout the coursework is key to a strong program. They hope to guide students to act consistently, whether at work during the week or in church on Sunday.

“We take seriously the command to be salt and light,” Rich says, “and to influence our culture for Christ.” In addition, they take a close look at what it means to have a moral government.

A Beacon on a Hill
The most recent evidence of this focus can be seen in the D.C. Semester — a Washington D.C. internship/study opportunity for students that begins in fall 2009. Approximately 25 students will be chosen from the competitive application process. Besides attending classes two days a week, they will spend 32 hours interning at a participating agency in their field.

With these internships in mind, the faculty make a point of developing relationships in the D.C. area. Their hope is to see the program extend to two consecutive semesters and, eventually, establish a permanent presence there. Best of all, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity carries the same price tag as a regular semester at Cedarville University.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to gain valuable experience in D.C. during the academic year,” says Dr. Mark Caleb Smith, assistant professor of political science and director of the Center for Political Studies. “Students will work everywhere from Capitol Hill to interest groups and government agencies. This is a great way not only to learn but also to build your network in D.C.”

Also in the works is a summer D.C. program for high school graduates who want to study in the nation’s capital before starting classes at Cedarville.

The Veracity of History
History is not only a degree option but also a key element of any program at a liberal arts institution. As such, its value is intrinsic.

“Our sense of identity comes from the past,” says Dr. Thomas Mach, professor of history. “Our understanding of ourselves, our family, our community, our nation, and our world are predicated on our knowledge of the past.”

That becomes even more valuable when you add faith to the equation, for the Christian worldview is grounded in history and based on actual historical events. From the biblical account of Creation to the story of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door to the chronicles of martyrdom throughout time, the study of our past impacts our future.

“We learn from those who came before us,” Mach says. “We learn what pleases God and what does not in the stories of Scripture. We learn about our utter dependence on God and how He has endowed us with abilities that should be exercised for His glory.”

With that in mind, Mach and his colleagues stress the importance of critical analysis in the study of history — channeling what we learn into every area of life, specifically as we participate in the electoral system, serve God and challenge our increasingly secular society.

Strong Tower
For the history and government faculty, nothing ranks higher than seeing their students succeed. Mach says success is “defined as students finding God’s call on their life and pursuing it to the best of their ability. We advise our students not only on the courses they need to take but also on how to achieve the objectives they have set for themselves.”

Recently, the department initiated the History and Government Organization as a means of providing further opportunities for students and faculty to pursue their like-minded interests.

History and education major Jessica Peck ’10 from Weatogue, Conn., cannot speak about her time at Cedarville without mentioning the caliber of the faculty. “When I think about the heart of the department, I think of my professors,” she says. “I see them as trustworthy mentors because they help me see the hand of God in history, leading His people forward for the glory of His name. And they encourage us to analyze politics in light of the Bible, the Constitution and America’s future.”

Cedarville history and government graduates go on to top graduate schools, law schools and career positions in their chosen fields, as well as various internships.

“We teach our students to value democracy,” Rich concludes. “The freedom to participate in government is one of our basic civil duties. Our elected officials are gatekeepers of society and, as such, affect the culture. Not to participate is to be apathetic … and that’s something we should strive to overcome.”