Special Issue: Critiquing the Sacred and the Profane in Higher Education (Tidsskrift)

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From a historical perspective what is considered sacred or profane has shifted over time in higher education (HE). Terms such as ‘collaboration’, ‘internationalisation’, ‘collegiality’, ‘active’ and ‘deep learning’ are part of the current sacred vocabulary of contemporary HE and academic key concepts, such as ‘learning outcomes’ have been imported into institutional settings, sanctified within managerial discourse with a possible impact both on belief systems and practices. This does not imply that some of these terms are not contested, especially by more critical members of the academic community, and operationalised in ways that their originators had never intended. Nevertheless, terms widely used in both the academic and managerial lexicon are rarely subjected to critical questioning or attention given to their transition into mantras in institutional settings influencing academic discourses and practises in the process.

The profanities of the academy are words and phrases that have become pejoratives, such as ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘ivory towerism’, and ‘surface learning’. Some of these profanities are the subject of debate as to the accuracy of their characterisations, such as the ‘student-as-consumer’ (see Brooks and Abrahams, 2018). Former virtues – such as ‘ivory towerism’ – have become latter day vices and some former vices – such as ‘sponsorism’ (Goodlad, 1995) – are now treated as virtuous behaviours. Other terms have evolved and been replaced with words that reflect changes in attitudes, traditions and expectations. Phrases such as ‘student engagement’ and ‘learning and teaching’ have become familiar slogans with implications beyond simple semantic trends.

On the one hand, sacred and profane concepts are symbolic of the changing idea of the university and its wider role in society. On the other hand, they contain the everyday lives and practices of actors in HE that are linked to specific contexts, roles and responsibilities. Arguably, the popularity of sacred and profane terms is indicative of the over-simplification of praxis which is also present in the use of dualisms, such as collegiality/managerialism or student-centred/teacher-centred (Macfarlane, 2015). The complexity characterising the use of such terms in both the organisational and everyday-life practices of the university is often left out of academic analysis and intellectual work. In this context it is also important, as Bengtsen and Barnett (2017:114) have argued, to confront a ‘growing darkness’ that cannot only be comprehended by formal agendas relating to quality assurance and professionalisation. The normative and historically contingent use of language in HE needs to be challenged and explored.

This special issue of the Journal of Praxis in Higher Education welcomes research articles, scholarly essays and other more innovative kinds of academic writing that offer original analyses of the sacred and profane language of HE. We invite critical, analytical research contributions that explore and challenge what is seen as sacred and profane in HE and will thereby promote a critical awareness towards the concepts that frame and influence our practice. Papers may include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following:

a critical analysis of a sacred or profane terms (and possible consequences for practice) used across global HE in a disciplinary, methodological or cross-disciplinary context
an exploration of the historical evolution of sacred or profane terms in HE and their changing interpretations over time
evaluations that seek to rehabilitate a profane term or question the apparent purity of a sacred one
the use of research methods, such as critical discourse analysis, that investigate the use of sacred and profane terms in university policy statements, in academic development strategies on a national or institutional level or in the academic literature more widely
critical analyses of everyday practises of HE where the organizational ambivalence between the sacred and the profane is actualised
Contributions to this special issue are invited from across fields of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary enquiry, including those writing in the disciplines that have taken HE as their object of study. In preparing their manuscripts authors should follow the guidelines of the Journal of Praxis for Higher Education available at https://journals.hb.se/jphe/about/submissions

All papers in the journal are published in open access. If you have an idea for a paper and would like to discuss this with one of the editors, please feel free to do so.


Trine Fossland, The Arctic University of Norway: [email protected]
Laura Louise Sarauw, Roskilde University: [email protected]
Bruce Macfarlane, The Education University of Hong Kong: [email protected]
Key dates

Manuscript submission due: 31 December 2022

Anticipated Publication date: Autumn, 2023

Periode1 sep. 202230 dec. 2023
Type af tidsskriftTidsskrift
Grad af anerkendelseInternational


  • Higher Education
  • Policy
  • Pratice
  • History of ideas