Merriam-Webster defines worldview as, “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint,” but my college professors would probably put it otherwise. One of my earliest gen-eds taught me that a worldview was simply how one views the world. My theology class, however, told me that worldview (contrary to its name) doesn’t exactly describe the way one views the world but instead specifies the lens through which one judges reality. Then my philosophy professor told me that worldview isn’t so much of a lens as it is a series of tenets that determine how we perceive and interpret our environment.
As the “clarifications” became more technical, I began to wonder if I was being pranked. “Worldview” isn’t a difficult concept. One of my more capable professors explained it as it related to the original German weltanschauung, but most other classes seemed driven to hack it to bits with a thesaurus and laden it with tired eyewear analogies. The word does not need four semesters of scrutiny—in fact, it suffers from four semesters of scrutiny. It seems more nebulous to me now than ever. This got me thinking:
Why is my university obsessed with worldview?
That is, why are we fixated on the word “worldview” as though it were from some cryptic ancient language? Several of my teachers have opened the semester by asking the class, “What is a worldview?” which is always followed by awkward silence. Should we say it’s a perspective? Should we say it’s a lens? A map? Is there a right answer? Usually not. We've hashed and re-hashed the definition of “worldview” into oblivion.
On top of that, there were papers. How many worldview essays would you say is the perfect amount? Two, maybe three? In two years at Liberty, I have written no fewer than six essays on worldview that compile into a twenty-page document. (As far as I can tell, this is twenty pages more than what my peers at secular colleges were required to write on worldview.) I couldn’t remember a single thing I had written in any of them. As I glanced back over them, I re-discovered such wise nuggets as “worldview is key to creating structure and security both for individuals and for societies” and “[worldview] is the most influential aspect of a person’s perception of truth.” Brilliant.
By this point I was more amused than aggravated, but I want to know more. Is “worldview” as vacuous and niche of a subject as it seems, or is that just my perspective—my worldview as it were? I did some work in the field to find out.
A Google search of “worldview” turns up three main results: (1) dictionary definitions, (2) technology related to literally viewing the world, such as NASA satellites or space tourism, and (3) a bizarre number of websites for Christian organizations. The first few pages include links to Ligonier Ministries, Focus on the Family, Patrick Henry College, Impact 360, Summit Ministries, Break Point, GoodSeed, the Institute for International Christian Communication, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—among many others. Take a stab at who owns these URLs:
Worldview.org? Christian leadership camp.
AllAboutWorldview.org? Christian blogger.
WorldviewWeekend.com? Christian news outlet.
WorldviewBridgeYear.com? Christian gap year program.
WorldviewMetal.com? You guessed it—Christian metal band.
The most deceptive link of all, however, was that of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). Based on the name, I thought that they had published one of the only secular discussions of worldview in existence—until I learned that the ASA was an “international network of Christians in the sciences.”
Do any non-Christians care about worldview at all?
As it turns out, a few do. RationalWiki gives “worldview” a brief article, noting that John S. Wilkins once said, “I don’t think worldviews exist.” Principia Cybernetica has an entry on worldview according to philosopher Leo Apostel. “Worldview” is the name of a WBEZ radio show. “World View” is the name of two unrelated news endeavors—one under CNN and the other under the Huffington Post.
That’s about all I could find.
Since I’m at a loss for explaining this phenomenon, I’ll just consult all of you:
To Christian readers—have you witnessed a similar fixation on worldview in our communities, or has that not been your experience?
To non-Christian readers—is there discussion of worldview that I’ve missed? Have you noticed our love of worldview from afar?