Interview with Hanna Rosin
Author of God's Harvard

God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America chronicles the year and a half veteran journalist Hanna Rosin spent at Patrick Henry College, observing the students and faculty. Founded in 2000 by Michael Farris, a constitutional lawyer and Baptist minister, Patrick Henry is the training ground for a new generation of politically active evangelical Christians. Many of the young men and women who attend PHC come from fundamentalist homeschooling backgrounds, and all of them are being groomed for careers in politics, film, science—any place where they can influence culture. God's Harvard captures the challenges facing the individuals involved in this movement as they try to reconcile their beliefs with their worldly ambitions.

Q: Michael Farris, Patrick Henry College’s founder, is quite a charismatic individual. Did you ever find it challenging to deal with him and his larger-than-life personality?

Hanna Rosin: Fundamentally, Mike Farris always treated me as a friend, and while he may have had many ulterior motives for doing so, the fact is he always did. I’d heard about his legendary temper but never experienced it firsthand. The closest I came was hearing him chew out a sales clerk who’d botched his daughter’s wedding-dress order. But that was over the phone, so there was only so much damage he could do.

Mike, I think, has a conflicted relationship with the press, which includes me. On the one hand, he sees himself, rightly, at the center of history and likes to have someone like me around to record it. On the other, he is suspicious, also rightly, of the left-leaning, largely secular cynics that make up the media. In my reporting that year, I saw him as a tragic hero in a way; he so much wanted his students to storm the secular world but he couldn’t quite let go enough to let them do it, because he was afraid the battle would corrupt them.

Q: PHC is not only training the next generation of policy makers, it is also producing a generation of movers and shakers who will influence every aspect of culture, including movies. Do you think we are close to seeing a film released by a Hollywood studio that has an overtly evangelical message?

HR: The Passion of the Christ? The Nativity? Knocked Up, in its own way? If a director could pull that off without having it feel like a Billy Graham movie hour, then definitely. And if not an overtly evangelical message then overtly evangelical characters, complete with all the flaws. Will & Grace is the product of a similar niche group triumph.

Q: All students and staff members must comply with Patrick Henry’s honor code. One of these codes states, “I will not spread slander or gossip.” Gossip is still a part of campus life, though, and Farahn Morgan was one of its victims. In an institution that places such a high priority on how people conduct themselves, why do rumors still persist?

HR: There’s a reason why the Bible has dozens of synonyms for “gossip.” It’s the hardest one to avoid, and the most common. They’re only human, after all. We should all try going a week, a full day even, without gossiping.

Q: The young evangelical women who are part of this movement face a major dilemma: how to reconcile their political ambitions with their future roles as wives and mothers. How do these well-educated and empowered women rationalize abandoning their professional goals?

HR: The girls always say to me that because of the way they grew up, they don’t experience their jobs as quite “real.” They could be at a high-powered White House or journalism job and still feel like they’re play-acting. The “real” job to them is always raising a family. That said, I’d like to see them in ten, fifteen years, when they’ve given up their careers and it’s too late to get them back.

Q: While God’s Harvard probably won’t be required reading for any of the school’s courses, do you think PHC students and faculty will read the book? Are you concerned that any of the students or faculty members featured in the book will object to how they are portrayed?

HR: I’m sure many of them will read the book, how could they not? It’s very difficult to predict how people will react. A lefty could read a portrait of one of the more conservative kids and think, “How scary! How could he believe those things!” But the conservative kid himself is proud of those beliefs, so he wouldn’t be bothered by it. For anyone that age, though, I think it’s hard to be so exposed.

Q: Of all the students profiled in God’s Harvard, who are your picks for most likely to succeed? Who do you secretly hope won’t achieve their goals of shaping the culture and taking back the nation?

HR: I actually think the kids I chose are so driven that all of them will succeed. This doesn’t mean they’ll make it to the White House, but they’ll make it somewhere, and probably in politics. Even the women will find their way back, at least as supporting players.

It’s no secret—I overtly hope none of them will be up to the task. Even the kids for whom I have deep and genuine affection, even the ones who are considered rebels, are much too conservative for my tastes. I’ve never heard any of them, for example, speak about homosexuality in any way I consider reasonable.

Q: A pivotal part of the book describes the crisis that developed between Farris and some of the school’s more popular professors over how to interpret the school’s mission. Has Patrick Henry resolved its identity crisis or is it still struggling to figure out how to be a Christian liberal-arts college?

HR: The school is still struggling. It was finally accredited, but more popular professors left at the end of the 2006/2007 school year. I think Patrick Henry, like most ambitious evangelical colleges, will wrestle for awhile with the meaning of Christian liberal arts.