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March 04, 2005

Universities, Religion, and the Secular Left

Steven Shiffrin: March 4, 2005

One of the premises leading to the creation of this site, as I understand it, is that there is insufficient communication between the left and the right. In important ways, the left does not understand the right and the left does not understand the right. My assumption in this post is that the secular left does not understand the religious right or the religious left. For example, I doubt that many on the secular left could speak intelligently about the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals, describe the heterogeneity of evangelicals, appreciate the extent to which the left is populated by those who proceed from a religious perspective, and, especially important, I doubt that most of the secular left understands the character of the religious arguments within and between religious traditions that have political ramifications. Without understanding the arguments, secular leftists cannot participate in effective ways.

To be sure, some are philosophically committed to the view that religion with limited exceptions should play no role in “public reason,” even though “reasonable” religious perspectives are admissible as comprehensive views that can be part of an overlapping consensus in support of a just society. This world of “public reason” without religious arguments does not now and never will exist. Those who hold to the “public reason” view need to explain how their theory applies to the world of the second best. Even if it made sense to say in a just society that a Millian would not attack a Kantian worldview in the public sphere, does it make sense to say that citizens cannot attack the theology of the religious right when the religious right has introduced religious arguments in the public sphere? Leaving aside the “public reason” constraints, there are no such constraints theorized in civil society, so the relative ignorance of the secular left seems problematic from the perspective of liberal education and pragmatic politics.

This leads to my question. Leaving aside the quality of religious education in religious colleges and universities, to what extent are secular universities responsible for the lack of knowledge of the secular left?

Take Cornell University where I teach. There is a Christian chapel (a more ecumenical focus would make more sense on this multicultural religiously diverse campus), many campus ministers, and a religious studies program (primarily a social science program). But, so far as I am aware, there is not a single theologian on the tenure or tenure track faculty. I wish that Cornell was unique in this respect, but its treatment of theology appears (with numerous exceptions) to be widespread in American universities. See George Marsden, The Soul of the American University. (My impression – though it is nothing more than an impression - is that even those universities with divinity schools, e.g., Harvard, Yale, Chicago, have not integrated them into undergraduate life).

My contention is that this is a prescription for inadequate education on issues of moral and political thought. University dialogue and debate on ethical and political issues in and out of classrooms should include faculty members who proceed from theistic and non-theistic perspectives. For example, theologians have thought deeply about issues of war and peace. Some are pacifists; other believe in the just war doctrine (with varying views about the conditions for a just war). In the Christian tradition, such theologians would point to scripture, but scripture is only the beginning of the inquiry for most of them. Moreover, to the extent, the debate is confined to scripture, it would be helpful for the secular left (or any informed citizen) to understand the nature of the debate. Obviously, the war and peace example could be multiplied across a broad range of issues. It is hard to imagine why university dialogue would not be enhanced by discussion from theistic and non-theistic perspectives.

Some would say, however, that religious thought is superstitious nonsense and does not belong on a university campus. It seems to me that there should be room in a university for this position to be advanced in a robust way. But it would be quite a different thing for a university to take such a position. In the interests of academic freedom, secular universities ordinarily (there are exceptions) do not take positions on controversial questions. In keeping with this, a secular university should not take theological or anti-theological positions. A secular university should not take positions about what God has to say about a subject or whether there is a God that has something to say. But to say that theology is superstition and that theologians should be excluded from a faculty commits the university to an anti-theological position. To be sure, universities can exclude astrology on the ground that it is insufficiently scientific. This is not controversial. Excluding religion, however, exhibits blindness not only to the religious character of the culture, but also to the religious demographics of a university faculty. I am guessing here that the combination of believers and agnostics on a university faculty outnumbers the atheists, and many of the atheists would have the intellectual humility to think they might be wrong or that theologians might have something useful to say, or that students might benefit from knowing how they think.

Some might worry, however, that it violates the Establishment Clause for federally funded universities to hire theologians, but that is surely wrong. If the government funded the theologians, that would be a problem. But government’s funding of math and science does not preclude a university from hiring theologians in a program of Ethics and Public Life, or Government, or Theology. At least, since the Tilton case, this has been established law.

What accounts for the exclusion of theologians then? Perhaps a combination of the belief in the triumph of science over religion (where this stands after the postmodern critique will not detain us), general antireligious sentiments, and arguments clothed with Establishment Clause overtones (with worries about how many and which kinds of theologians). The result of these and other factors in my opinion is that universities fail in an important part of their educational mission.

 

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» Faith and academia from Doubly Sure
But I think that teaching about morality and engaging students in thought about morality is one of the best ways to broaden our horizons and make us think critically. To go back to the example of the just war class - since that paper is weighing heav... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 4, 2005 4:28:22 PM

» The Ignorance of the Secular Left from The Conservative Philosopher

See here for Steven Shiffrin's thoughtful post about the secular Left. He says that the secular Left does not understand either the religious R... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 4, 2005 4:31:23 PM

» Affirmative action for theologians from Majikthise
Steve Shiffrin claims that the secular left is ignorant of religion and wonders whether the universities might be be responsible. He's concerned that elite liberal colleges aren't preparing their graduates for public religious dialogue. Leaving aside t... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 5:40:30 PM

» Secular Left 2 Religious Right from Mixing Memory
This is, I think, one of the most pressing problems for the secular left, and its importance for our influence on the general political discourse in this country far exceeds that of our lack of understanding of the nuances of Christianity on the right.... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 9:41:49 PM

» Affirmative action for theologians? from Pandagon
Steve Shiffrin claims that the secular left is ignorant of religion and wonders whether the universities might be be responsible. He's concerned that elite liberal colleges aren't preparing their graduates for public discourse with believers. Leaving a... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 9:43:06 PM

» Affirmative action for theologians? from Pandagon
Steve Shiffrin claims that the secular left is ignorant of religion and wonders whether the universities might be be responsible. He's concerned that elite liberal colleges aren't preparing their graduates for public discourse with believers. Leaving a... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 9:51:18 PM

» Mmmm, blogroll from Dr Chuck Pearson
If I start doing this very seriously, I'm going to come up with a list of blogs to put on the right. [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 14, 2005 9:46:24 PM

Comments

Posted by: Tony Vila

I think this highly overestimated the role of analytical discussion in public life, let alone of analytical discussion about religion. Pundits are routinely turned from one side of economic or foreign policy debates to the other side. They do have aome role in society, if not much.

Most leaders who claim religious backgrounds are entirely unwilling to engage the other side about possible interpretations of god's will and writings. Perhaps this is connected to religion being based on an unarguable premise, but not necessarily so. Suffice it to say, a secular leftist, interpretting Christ's message about helping the poor and his kindness towards prostitutes, never gets very far talking to a right leaning fundamental about how that is more consistent with Christ's traditions than fear of cultural issues and laissez faire economics.

Posted by: Tony Vila | Mar 4, 2005 3:56:54 PM


Posted by: Jesse Zink

Some really interesting issues being raised. Thanks for doing so in a thoughtful manner.

But I want to add a question: what is the effect of not having a religious presence on campus (specifically, in the classroom)? If professors don't talk about religion is that a bad thing.

The answer is, I think, yes because people (and lots of people of college student age, in my experience) have this desire to ask the "big" questions about spirituality and faith and find that they are insufficiently addressed in class. So they turn to campus organizations. I'm not confident in this assertion but I'd guess that the most active campus Christian organizations are the proselytizing, evangelical groups like Inter-Varsity, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc. (This is based on my experience - I'd be interested to hear other's view.) These groups - also in my experience - promote personal relationships with Jesus at the expense of all else, including (and especially!) academics. The result is, first, not only less of a focus on academics, which is no good, but, second, and more importantly, an increased emphasis on the view that faith has nothing to offer academia and vice versa.

Maybe I'm coming off as incoherent but I think there needs to be a way for students to seek and question about faith within the context of academia and use that process to deepen their own understanding of the world around them

Posted by: Jesse Zink | Mar 4, 2005 4:08:17 PM


Posted by: Bill Farrell

I am not sure that religious people know the difference between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. I have read many descriptions of that difference that do not agree with each other. (I am Irish Catholic, so my background does not help.) I would appreciate your take on the difference.

Posted by: Bill Farrell | Mar 4, 2005 4:16:10 PM


Posted by: oliver

I don't see being a theologian as a disqualifier per se. I imagine theologians mostly are doctors of divinity who are trained by doctors of divinity and don't have PhDs. But universities are PhD factories with PhD workers, which creates a barrier to entry from the other credentialing world. Anyway, with or without bona fide theologians, I would have thought that universities already have the people or at least the positions to teach the politics and beliefs of religious Americans. I'm thinking of the faculty in religious studies, sociology, history and political science. You don't need a Klansman to teach racism or a New Guinea tribe member to teach anthropology. We could as well call for our religious studies people to spend more time "in the field" as call for theologian professors. To insist on the latter seems odd to me.

Posted by: oliver | Mar 4, 2005 4:22:51 PM


Posted by: Bret

I think that as long as a given University is up-front about its position on religion, then it doesn't matter what stance it takes - students (and donors) can choose to go elsewhere if they don't like it. I don't think it's the job of secular programs within secular universities to teach their undergraduates religion.

It makes more sense for it to be discussed on blogs like this. I agree that the secular left generally seems to be less than optimally informed regarding religion and how it affects society and culture, but self-described secular schools doesn't seem like the right place to try to overcome that lack of understanding.

Posted by: Bret | Mar 4, 2005 4:37:51 PM


Posted by: J.S.

Good questions and issues but you miss a few key points. First, (as someone else mentioned above) most religious people don't know about the religious differences you mentioned nor do they even know much about their own religion! How many religious people in this country can tell you the 10 commnadments or have even read the entire Bible or Koran? Very few. Many people use religion as a way to interject an absolutist morality into their lives and to provide a sense of relief from having to ask the hard questions, not to answer them. It is much easier to assume that as long as you do A and B you go to heaven than to comtemplate the fact that the universe is a great mystery and there may very well be no heaven. The key issue is this: We cannot have laws in society based solely on faith- faith is by definition lacking in evidence or proof and is essentially arbitary. People can believe in whatever god and his or her rules they choose, but they don't have the right to force the rest of society to believe it. I have written a number of pieces on religion on my website and if anyone's interested please check them out.

http://voicesofreason.info

J.S.

Posted by: J.S. | Mar 4, 2005 5:19:41 PM


Posted by: oliver

"A secular university should not take positions about what God has to say about a subject or whether there is a God that has something to say."

What about the matter of why organisms look and behave as they do? Should a secular university grant credits for a course on "intellegent design" toward a degree in biology? No.

Posted by: oliver | Mar 4, 2005 5:19:43 PM


Posted by: Dwight

Steve,

I quite agree with you about the implausibility of excluding religion from public reason. However, I am not sure that hiring theologians at public universities advances the mission of the university. Presumably, universities are engaged in the pursuit of the truth, regardless of how modestly we construe the truth in light of postmodern demurrals. It is not obvious to me that the truth or falsity of religious claims can be demonstrated since they depend on revelation. Of course, one might say the same thing about moral and political claims, depending on where one stands on the question of moral realism and objectivity. But without getting into those issues, it seems to me that at least with regard to moral and political claims, we are discussing experiences that everyone can potentially share. We may disagree about how to interpret the data, but at least we can agree on what the data is. To the extent a theologian is focussed on a particular tradition of revelation she is discussing something that is not in principle publically available. You make a good case for more philosophy of religion, comparative religions, sociology of religion, etc. but I have reservations about theology. I gather from your post that you agree that public institutions should not be in the business of deciding which revelation is true. How does a university hire a theologian without at least gesturing in the direction of that decision?


Posted by: Dwight | Mar 4, 2005 5:37:59 PM


Posted by: Peter Wizenberg

What sorts of theologians ought a University hire?

Only Christians? Satanists? Wahabbist Muslims? Satmar Hasidim? Scientologists?

What principled criteria would be employed to select 'qualified' theologians?

Perhaps the analogy with astrology is apt.

Posted by: Peter Wizenberg | Mar 4, 2005 6:08:26 PM


Posted by: sGreer

I'm not sure I agree with your statement that theologians aren't welcome on a campus; when I majored in Philosophy & Religion (which in larger universities is more often called Comparative Religions), I had a Xtian theologian as an advisor who taught Kierkegaard and 20th Cen. Theology, I took a class in Judaism from a Rabbi, and an Imam joined the teaching staff just after I left the school (of course). While I was there, a guest Imam taught one course, and it took moving heaven and earth (so to speak) to weasel into the rolls. They were all three also PhDs, although I believe the guest Imam's PhD was in Islamic Philosophy or some such.

I think the problem here is that most people equate 'theologian' with 'commentator' or 'person of religious bent seeking to preach'. My advisor's definition is that 'theology is philosophy with god in the center'; meaning, it's philosophy that begins with the assumption that God Exists, and proceeds from there (for the most part).

In other words, by that definition, many--if not the vast majority--of those teaching various religions in public universities are theologians, although they may not be ordained ministers in a specific faith. The professors I had were all ordained in one faith or another, but taught the text of the course and never once spoke of their own beliefs (except in the case of the Rabbi when explaining how Reformed Jews differ from Orthodox, but he was hardly seeking to convert his listeners). An evangelical bent is discouraged on most campuses but this extends to all areas, including my ultra-conservative economics professor with an ax to grind on trickle-down theory, or my Chinese professor who subtly but consistently emphasized that China was, is, and always shall be the origin of true civilization.

As for who campuses hire, my experience has been that they hire theologians like they do engineers and accountants. Who has the required degrees, the track record, and the speciality that would bring something new to our campus? Personal beliefs don't always stop at the door, but who's to say that this is always a bad thing?

Posted by: sGreer | Mar 4, 2005 6:46:56 PM


Posted by: Colin Danby

Might the implied contrast in this:

" ... a religious studies program (primarily a social science program). But, so far as I am aware, there is not a single theologian on the tenure or tenure track faculty."

be unpacked a little more? Might the author be clearer about what exactly the religious studies program is not providing students? I have the sense that "religion" is being used in more than one way in this essay, or at least with some range of meaning. There is also a logical slippage from the absence of credentialed theologians, to "excluding theologians" to, by paragraph 6, "excluding religion," which would seem to suggest that whatever the religious studies program is studying the author does not think it is religion. I also presume Cornell has a philosophy department.

Given that the "exclusion" is not really established, there is a slight tendentiousness in the vigor with which various (and, I agree, spurious) arguments for such an exclusion are attacked.

Posted by: Colin Danby | Mar 4, 2005 7:49:21 PM


Posted by: Daniel

The lack of a religion department is not particularly troubling. Having at least some courses in philosophy would do as well if, as pointed out above, they started with the premise that God exists. But what is truly concerning is that the liberal arts colleges seem to have turned away from the deep questions that religion addresses (and that philosophy used to address before it became an irrelevant, hyper-technical field only for the initiates). When college students state that 'truth is relative'--do they have any idea what that means? Do they understand that when Nietzsche announced that 'God is dead' that he thought that as world-shattering? Do they tackle the implications of Goedel's theorem? What about chaos theory and its effect on a deterministic world view? Despite being a Catholic myself, I wouldn't care whether Cornell had a religion department. I would care if its graduates think that "God" spelt backward is "dog" says something really deep, you know, profound.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 4, 2005 8:48:28 PM


Posted by: Stephen Scholz

Disclaimer: I am a left leaning atheist philosophy professor.
I am concerned by the very premise of the argument that Thelogians provide something that a Religious Studies professor does not. I assume, and this is consistent with my experiences in several Philosophy and Religion departments, that Religious Studies Ph.D.s are reasonably well versed in the contraversies within the religions they study. What they may lack is the sort of appreciation on insight that can only be gained from faith. If there is some insight or appreciation that the faithless cannot achieve through 'objective' study, this would presumably add to the store of knowledge the university provides.
But, and here is the big BUT, if the insight or appreciation cannot be transmitted through study, but only by the acceptance of certain beliefs on faith, then whatever a Thelogian could add beyond that of Religious Studies would be inherently unavailable to those students who do not share the faith of the Thelogian. Even in a religious affiliated school, this seems inappropriate. No program should exclude people arbitrarily like that, with the possible exception of seminaries. The various programs derided by the likes of Horwitz and others: Woman's Studies, Black Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies are, at least in theory, accessable to straight white men.
That said, I don't think Thelogians should be precluded from teaching; if they have knowledge, talent, experience, etc... applicable to all of their likely students, they should be welcome.

Posted by: Stephen Scholz | Mar 4, 2005 8:58:31 PM


Posted by: Achillea

I agree with Stephen and sGreer. Understanding and faith are not synonymous. While faith might be required for 'initiation into the mysteries' (ie, in-depth understanding) of a particular religion, it should be quite possible to grasp its core tenets and get a sense of where its practitioners are generally 'coming from' on a purely intellectual level. Since universities are essentially in the business of expanding students' intellectual horizons, this seems to me perfectly in keeping with their function. It also seems to me that Prof(?) Shiffrin's point is that excluding study of the subject from the curriculum -- to whatever extent that occurs -- is a failure in that function.

Posted by: Achillea | Mar 5, 2005 12:17:14 AM


Posted by: Achillea

I agree with Stephen and sGreer. Understanding and faith are not synonymous. While faith might be required for 'initiation into the mysteries' (ie, in-depth understanding) of a particular religion, it should be quite possible to grasp its core tenets and get a sense of where its practitioners are generally 'coming from' on a purely intellectual level. Since universities are essentially in the business of expanding students' intellectual horizons, this seems to me perfectly in keeping with their function. It also seems to me that Prof(?) Shiffrin's point is that excluding study of the subject from the curriculum -- to whatever extent that occurs -- is a failure in that function.

Posted by: Achillea | Mar 5, 2005 12:17:15 AM


Posted by: Achillea

Sorry for the double post, my net's being a little funky tonight.

I'd like to add that not all religions or faiths start by postulating 'the existence of god.' Existence of a higher power might be a better way of putting it.

Posted by: Achillea | Mar 5, 2005 12:22:19 AM


Posted by: David

Disclaimer: I was born and live in Europe.

I think that this idea of having theologians in universities is a very bad one since theologians are philosophers carrying more assumptions. I think it is good to have courses on such things as philosophy of religion, comparative religion, and so on, but theology (at least Catholic theology (I'm an atheist but was brought up a Catholic)) is a very technical and specific discipline, with its own terms of art, a great deal of philosophical sophistication and no application whatsoever to the real world or to other religions. Every religion has its own theology, in many cases several branches of it: moral, dogmatic etc. What's the point of learning such things that even most religious people have no clue about? Some generalities on philosophy of religion and the basis in which different religions are based is useful knowledge, but anything above that seems excessive to me.

PS I do think that religious discourse should be a private matter, and not have any effect on the public sphere. Europe is moving in this direction, but not yet all the way there. In the meantime though, I admit that religious ideas have force in the world, what a pity.

Posted by: David | Mar 5, 2005 1:56:24 AM


Posted by: Mitch

In important ways, the left does not understand the right and the left does not understand the right

Freudian slip?

...to what extent are secular universities responsible for the lack of knowledge of the secular left?

I have two difficulties with this question, first "responsibility" and second "knowledge" of what?

Are universities responsible for the teaching of classics? It'd be nice but that subject is just out of fashion. No "responsibility" involved.

As to knowledge, is it history or theology or ethics? I expect you mean actual ethical practice, because all three of those are available for study in some form at most any university (as mentioned elsewhere in philosophy or sociology or history or comparative religious studies or geographical area studies programs). You may not find the particular subject you want very easily (your program may be heavy on Southeast Asia Buddhism and Latin American Catholicism but nothing about Greek Orthodox), but the subject of religion is a bit more fractious and controversial and less self correcting than, say, chemistry.

So maybe you are really thinking of just ethical -practice-. There I don't think there is any hope, either on secular campuses or parochial ones.

Posted by: Mitch | Mar 5, 2005 7:10:49 AM


Posted by: Kyron

You write that "To be sure, universities can exclude astrology on the ground that it is insufficiently scientific."

Why, then, shouldn't religion be excluded on the ground that it is insufficiently scientific? Certainly religious claims are not falsifiable in principle, and can't be presented as such even when framed as objects of study. Of course, we needn't and shouldn't refuse to study non-falsifiable claims on the ground that they are. But then why exclude astrology?

No, of course astrology isn't worthy of serious study. So what is the relevant difference between astrology and religion?

Certainly the world's religions have greater philosophical depth, a more significant history, a greater economic and political impact than astrology. But how are these features of religion not adequately handled by philosophers, historians, political scientists, and economists? Who needs a theologian?

Is the added value a thelogian brings her faith? But the dimension of actual faith is the unscientific (and how) dimension of religious studies. That's the part that is appropriately excluded from a university, along with astrology.

Is the added value some byproduct of faith, such as a greater devotion to serious study or a greater sympathy to the subject of study? This doesn't seem to be the kind of devotion or sympathy necessary for good scholarship. If so, we should prefer African-Americans as historians of slavery and women as researchers into sexual harassment as employment discrimination.

You write: "Excluding religion, however, exhibits blindness not only to the religious character of the culture, but also to the religious demographics of a university faculty."

How is it that our historians, political scientists, economists, and philosophers are blind to the religious character of the culture? Do you mean "blind" or "insufficiently sensitive to?" The former is clearly false. The latter seems to rest on the dubious notion that faith is a prerequisite to the required level of sensitivity.

Ahh, I think I get it now. It comes down to "the religious demographics of a university faculty." Apparently, religious believers on campus feel embattled, isolated, defeated.

Yes, well, too bad all that Enlightenment business got its legs under it all those years ago, isn't it? Better to have smothered it in its infancy.

Posted by: Kyron | Mar 5, 2005 8:03:37 AM


Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis)

A couple of thoughts.

First, this is what Belgium's hiring of theologians to teach in its colleges and participate in its ministries has led to:

http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2019

Second, if you want to understand the interactions of religion and public life, and the insights religion offers, I really do think that history of religion programs (such as Eliade founded, more or less, at Chicago) or what are really sociology of religion programs (e.g. Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at IUPUI, she is really a sociological historian).

For the most part, such programs offer more in the way of insight and understanding interactions and perspectives.

Not that theology classes for undergraduates do not offer something. And I believe them to be appropriate for religiously affiliated schools, but if your goal if for people to understand each other, including letting people understand more of the secular left than they get from e-mail chains stating "secular humanism is a variant of marxist pseudo-religion" ... it wouldn't hurt to approach teaching such things in public schools from the perspective of sociological history.

The biggest problem that discipline has had is that it was dominated by secular and atheist types who for the longest time, took as an article of faith that all religious activity was cultural and that people really didn't believe. A form of patent nonsense that pretty much destroyed anything useful they could have said.

But that is changing (and how I picked the examples I picked, neither Eliade or Shipps would ever tell you that the people they study don't really believe, they just participate, build temples and sacrifice as a joint social endeavor ... it boggles the mind that such a perspective ever came to dominate a complete discipline).

Things like the story of Alessia are all too common in Europe. They may have stopped taking Jewish kids away from their congregations and forcing them to eat pork, but that doesn't mean that the practice has stopped. It has just moved on to easier targets.

And theologians in the universities give it strength. Seriously, read http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2019

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Mar 5, 2005 8:54:31 AM


Posted by: No Labels Please

I'm sorry if this post comes off as a little disingenuous, in a "know thy enemy that ye may defeat him" kind of way.

A little like studying migratory bird patterns before the big shoot?

Posted by: No Labels Please | Mar 5, 2005 10:20:24 AM


Posted by: john t

As Stephen M [Ethesis] points out the problem is larger then the world of the universities,re his comments on the public schools. But to address the university; Professor Shiffrin mentions hiring theologians in Ethics,Government or Theology programs. But a broader program could be gradually put in place without harm to the secular stance of the university. How many students after four years are familiar with Jacques Maritain,John Henry Cardinal Newman,or for that matter Pascal. I was drawn to Newman as much for his reputation as an English stylist as for his religious beliefs. Is his The Idea of a University read anymore,much less Apologia Pro Vita Sua? Concerning law schools could a more balanced view be offered on the establishment clause? Given the dreck that graduates from Journalism schools there would appear to be room for miles of improvement,the antagonism of the media towards religion is ugly. Not having been in a classroom for a long long time I may be off on some of my assumptions/questions but I think the general idea is valid. Still the question is culture wide. We have come to the point where schoolchildren can't sing Christmas carols,where politicians are hounded by questions of being in thrall to the religious right,and other manifistations of secular predjudice,I don't know what else to call it. There is room for a slow,gradual,and tolerant change.

Posted by: john t | Mar 5, 2005 10:28:07 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Shiffrin:

Thank you for a most thoughtful post. I think the predominantly secular left in universities suffers from its lack of contact with thoughtful men and women with a theistic (or even, more generally, a transcendental) perspective, and that students suffer as a result, though I also appreciate at least some of the objections and problems several comments have raised.

It strikes me as facially implausible, for reasons similar to the hue and cry over the dirth of conservatives among university faculties, to claim it is important to have, say, African American scholars for, among other reasons, the purpose of promoting diversity, but not to have faculty who overtly bring their faith into their pedagogy. In that regard, I suggest there is a significant difference between a person “witnessing” her faith in a way similar to the manner scholars can properly bring the fact of their ethnicity or gender into their work and, on the other hand, proselytizing to students. I hasten to add that I don’t see that as a covert brief for Creationism or for scholars in any subject area to insinuate their religious believes (any more than their political beliefs) into the classroom inappropriately.

However, that’s one of those “easier said than done” situations. Moreover, the several comments about where to draw the line regarding just which sort of faithful theologians to include are legitimate. Even so, if rough proportionality is a not entirely illegitimate yardstick when it comes to race, gender, etc., perhaps it would not be illegitimate here, either, if the goal is to provide a university community that better reflects and is thus better able to understand the larger society in which it functions. (Mark me as deeply skeptical about how heartfelt a belief in diversity, per se, university faculties really have, however.)

Thus, it seems to me that Mr. Scholz, for one, somewhat misses the point. Taking philosophy departments in particular (since that is his field), I would argue that while it is entirely possible for someone who, not to mince words, believes that the analytic approach in philosophy is intellectually preferable to the Continental tradition to nonetheless study or teach phenomenology, etc., it is highly unlikely that such a scholar would bring the same sympathetic force to his teaching and research as those who are genuinely committed to that tradition. (One might make the same argument about Marxists and Scholastics, by the way, though I confess personally to having a harder time taking them seriously.) In that sense, what is “unavailable to ... students” is difficult to articulate with precision, but that difficulty does not negate its import.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Mar 5, 2005 11:12:22 AM


Posted by: Daniel

For those who think religion is grounded on faith only and thus illogical and not worthy of study in university: the non-science humanities are based on ... what? As one moves away from truly controlled experiments (say, from lab physics to economics), people will differ more and more on what the facts are and what they 'mean'. Witness the opposite reasons the left and right offer for the end of the cold war.

When one moves into the arts, then science (or the scientific method) becomes even less important. Can you 'prove' that Shakespeare is worth studying? What is the point of literature, anyway? Why study blobs of oil on canvas? Is 'science' an overriding concern in the quest for beauty?

The comments by others above touch on but do not go to the heart of the matter: what is the function of a university? A trade school for scientists? Teaching critical thinking? I believe it is exploration, using the great minds of the past and present, of the fundamental questions: why do I exist? how should I live? what really matters? In short, a university's function, I believe, is helping students start exploring those questions. Because religion played and continues to play a giant role in that exploration, it should be offered in some manner.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 5, 2005 11:34:14 AM


Posted by: Colin Danby

1. I want to strongly second Daniel's points, and add that I'm troubled by the arguments for exclusion of theologians posted above (though at least we have, since my first post on this topic, discovered the exclusionist position!) Theologians are scholars, and there seems no a priori reason to think that they might not contribute in highly useful ways to a university's educational and scholarly mission.

2. It would very much like to know, if there are any theologians out there, how the academic job market looks to a newly-credentialed theologian -- what kinds of jobs do you normally apply for? Which are open to you? What sorts of exclusions do you perceive and how do they work?

3. Just as a postscript on David Ridgely's comments, this website has already hosted discussions of the problems around "diversity" as a principle, but I want to be clear that it's a canard here: I don't see anyone arguing for academic hiring in order to build a human zoo, a microcosm of the world immediately outside the university's gates. Universities are specialized and unusual institutions, and have a responsibility beyond the state of opinion in the particular time and place in which they are located. Traditionalists like to invoke Plato, so let's do that: if one learns one thing from Plato it's that the academy ought not to be a mere microcosm of opinion in the society around it. (The galling thing re African American scholars is that they still have to be twice as good as the typical scholar to be taken seriously, are often expected to do extra service to their institutions, and even then are dogged by uninformed assumptions that they are mere diversity hires.)

Posted by: Colin Danby | Mar 5, 2005 1:54:51 PM


Posted by: hick

How about the fundamentalist right or the kumbaya left answer some basic Phil. 101 questions? Or rather simply admit that there are no rational grounds for theological beliefs. If there are no rational grounds (i.e. if God is all knowing and powerful than He knowingly causes wars and tsunamis and plagues) for theology then it is debatable whether it should be taught in universities. Dogma, whether Christian, Islamic, or Jewish is not a type of intellectual discourse.

Posted by: hick | Mar 5, 2005 2:17:31 PM


Posted by: nathan

Why should the "communication gap" between the secular left and the religious (right) be bridged by the former studying various detailed theological position?

Why not instead start with trying to engage both parties in discussion over basic philosophy of religion (including some of the strong arguments against belief in god that has been aggregated there).

The problem is not that the secular left knows to little about the details of different contemporary american religious strands. The problem is rather that the secular left does not challenge religion more thoroughly through argument (in society as well in the academy). From my current perspective in a more secular european country, the extent that religion goes unchallenged in so many parts of the american society is just plain weird.

Posted by: nathan | Mar 5, 2005 2:37:37 PM


Posted by: MattD

"For example, I doubt that many on the secular left could speak intelligently about the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals, describe the heterogeneity of evangelicals, appreciate the extent to which the left is populated by those who proceed from a religious perspective, and, especially important, I doubt that most of the secular left understands the character of the religious arguments within and between religious traditions that have political ramifications."


These claims are largely correct. I don't know if theologians are going to be in any better position to help one understand religion's impact on culture than would a social scientist. This isn't to say that theologians don't have a place in a university. I have friends who are strongly anti-religious in their orientation, and I have friends who are serious theists. I tell each often that they haven't a clue about the sort of thinking that drives the other side. Each side can lack the intellectual humility which helps one in endeavoring to understand the other side. I find it incredible that philosophers can write-off relgion in the knee-jerk fashion that some (though not all, nor not the majority) do, given that among the very best philosophers today there are a number of theists. On the other hand, I see often a branding of the university by religious self-styled "intellectuals" as a sort of spritiual black hole. It is filled with evil professors who are (no pardon for this) hell-bent on talking religious students out of their faith, as well as all of the sins of the body that have taken center-stage in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. This is is in spite of the fact that there are very sincere, smart naturalists who have spent much more time struggling with worldview issues than have these "intellectuals" of a religious bent.

I am very leftist politically. At the same time, I know what drives those on the Religious Right, and I have a decent sense of the sociological forces which brought this movement into being. I don't think that this understanding is the sort of thing one picks up with a class taught by a theologian, though. In my case, my understanding of the Religious Right comes from reading people like Mark Noll, George Marsden, Tom Frank, and others. It also comes from conversations and relationships I have with deeply religious people.

I think that a reasonable goal for the university is to attempt to cultivate an intellectual curiosity that will lead one to take initiative in understanding what motivates people on the other side--given that there are people on the other side who are at least as well-positioned as they are epistemically with respect to the truth of propositions fundamental to worldviews.

Posted by: MattD | Mar 5, 2005 2:48:04 PM


Posted by: DBS

I'd like to echo earlier comments that the issue hangs on how we understand what's missing in philosophy, political science, religious studies, etc. in today's universities. One answer is that the problem is tied to hiring criteria. My guess is that the failure to address the religious perspective is best understood as an instance of the larger failure to address the perspective of the average student. This, in turn, is a direct result of the failure of large research universities to take teaching seriously. My guess (I would love to hear whether this is accurate) is that the situation is much better at colleges with less emphasis on research.

Once a teacher starts trying to make the material accessible to her students, the significance of understanding their background cultural and religious assumptions takes center stage. My experience is in philosophy. Even if religion is not a part of the curriculum, someone teaching ethics or political philosophy will be much less effective if she does not understand where her students are coming from. In a world where faculty are evaluated in terms of their ability to teach instead of research, there should be a premium on teachers who understand the religous and cultural perspectives of their students, and can shape the way they teach appropriatly. In such a world, those who teach ethics and political philosophy would have more of the knowledge you (rightly) say most now lack. Of course, it is possible that those with that knowledge will themselves be atheists. I doubt it, but it is possible.

In my experience, the best students in moral and political philosophy classes are consistently able to apply the material to real world problems, but most students find that the presentation makes moral argument look like a parlor trick. I think this is a direct result of teaching styles that mirror academic writing styles, addressing an audience very different from the one that makes up undergraduate classes. At the undergraduate level, this is bad teaching. Students need more context, and many who teach undergraduates either lack the relevant knowledge to provide that context or they lack the ability to convey it. In a world where teaching ability mattered, these people would be replaced (that is, relieved of their undergraduate teaching responsibilities).

Requiring professional academics to teach undergraduates can serve to encourage them to understand the rest of their society, but only if they are required to teach well.

Posted by: DBS | Mar 5, 2005 3:04:36 PM


Posted by: hick


The word "secular" has itself become one of the right's favored pejoratives. TO the irrationalist dixie protestant, "secular" does not mean, say arguing for separation of Church and State, for ethical politics, for environmentalism, or for decent public institutions; instead, it connotes something like "non-protestant, liberal-leftist freak, probably gay, who eats tofu and wears birkenstocks, most likely from California". The fundamentalist right, like the nutcase marxist left, doesn't think in terms of logic or reason but in terms of bumper-sticker politics.


signed,

Secular moderate

Posted by: hick | Mar 5, 2005 3:54:12 PM


Posted by: bakho

The reason why students know little about the religious left (other than those students that belong to religious left organizations) is the relative silence of the religious left and their lack of any house organ to carry their message. The religious right has its own TV network (for God's sake) along with their own publishing houses and the backing of conservative billionaires.

OTOH, the religious left tends to put its money and resources not into politics and proselytizing as much as in social efforts to improve life on earth for the poor. The religious left has a couple of spokesmen like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton that can occasionally get press coverage. However there is no large organization promoting religious left ideas, nor are there billions of dollars to be had. The religious left is also less monolithic than the religious right so it is more difficult for the religious left to unify around which battles they should fight.

If there is a need for dialog between the secular left and religious left, then set up the forum and start the discussion.

Posted by: bakho | Mar 5, 2005 5:04:50 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

As for Mr. Danby’s characterization of my comments as a canard, I can only say he has failed to understand their intent. On reflection, that may be because he also took my comments about proportionality as suggesting that if, say, 60% of the population were Christians then 60% of a university faculty should be also. I don’t know if that is how he interpreted it, but it would be a fair reading. In any case, it is not what I meant. I was trying, however unsuccessfully, to get some handle on the “what about Buddhists or Zoroastrians or Satanists” issue. He may believe that other threads have satisfactorily addressed conservatives in the academy, but I fail to see how any comparison between that topic and the one at hand should be considered per se inappropriate.

As for the rest of his comments in that paragraph, they appear to do little beyond assert his opinions, to which he is entitled. However, insofar as his parenthetical assertions regarding African American scholars and the university are correct, so much the worse for the university; insofar as they are incorrect, as I suspect they are, so much the worse for Mr. Danby’s powers of observation and analysis.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Mar 5, 2005 6:39:26 PM


Posted by: Mona

Steve Shiffrin: I'm not sure that theologians are excluded from the academy; I did a religious studies major at a state university, and most of the faculty in that major were religionists.

But would you not expect that theologians per se are interested in the particular dogmas of their faith system, and so most likely to be employed in colleges devoted to that religion?

Posted by: Mona | Mar 5, 2005 7:38:40 PM


Posted by: Peter Wizenberg

I'm wondering whether Steve Shiffrin would countenance atheists (sufficiently conversant with the subject) lecturing on theology, either at universities or seminaries.

Of course, there are non-theistic, i.e., non-supernatural, 'religious' systems, e.g., Reconstructionist Judaism, Theravada Buddhism, etc.

Posted by: Peter Wizenberg | Mar 5, 2005 8:56:42 PM


Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis)

http://fowlesview.blogspot.com/2005/03/adelbert-denaux-and-belgiums.html

For more of what happens when you let theologians into the debate the way they do in Belgium.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Mar 5, 2005 10:11:14 PM


Posted by: hick

Re-contextualization, man:

Perhaps the dialogue between secularists and non-secularists might be improved if the chapels and cathedrals of Christendom--as well as say college history classrooms--were decorated with pictures and photos of the victims of 20th century wars and genocide, whether done in the name of fascism, communism, Christianity, Islam, democracy, etc. A bit garish and crass true. At the very least the realist-minded Pastor might put some faux-skulls up in his church.

Posted by: hick | Mar 5, 2005 10:43:10 PM


Posted by: Stephen Scholz

To Ridgley's comment about 'analytic' philosophers not being able to convey continental philosophy in a sympathetic light. I suppose it depends on the audience. I frequently find myself defending philosophers and philosophies that I strongly reject with a sort of zeal and energy that might surprise you. That is because I believe that a student should understand a theory or philosophy before rejecting it. That is my usual experience in undergraduate classes. Perhaps graduate level studies would be different, although I am not so sure that is true.
So I think skilled religious studies or anthropologists could convey the relevant religious matter to students in an objective fashion.
Of course the prejudices or other beliefs of academics may slip into their teachings, that is normal. I surely don't think a school ought to aim to find people who are true believer of every philosophy (for example). Would we have to hire Objectivists (A la Ayn Rand), Idealists (like Berkeley), or Maoists?
Now you might mean, that a Theologian has a sympathy in a way that would be comforting to religious students (whereas presumably evil atheists like myself make religious students feel insecure or skeptical about their own beliefs). I am not sure that is a real danger to be honest.
But even if it were, would that be a good reason to bring in Intelligent Design people? That would make a lot of my students more comfortable. I really hope comforting our students is not our job.

Posted by: Stephen Scholz | Mar 5, 2005 11:02:45 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Scholz offers his own academic integrity and teaching skills as a counterexample to my concerns. I don’t doubt either, but even taking him at his word, it isn’t much of a database. Without getting all epistemological here, how would he (could he) ever know if he defends those philosophers he rejects as vigorously or effectively as an equally competent philosopher and teacher who supports them would? (Furthermore, one might worry just a tad at Mr. Scholz’s reason for his zeal being “that a student should understand a theory or philosophy before rejecting it,” but perhaps I shouldn’t read too much in that.)

Look, let’s not get carried away about this. I’m not suggesting or implying that predominantly analytic philosophy departments must have a continental scholar in their midst or vice versa (though I certainly think that departments large enough to do so would benefit thereby), nor would I have any interest in assembling a faculty “zoo,” as Mr. Danby suggested I was advocating. Mr. Shiffrin suggested that the contemporary secular academy suffered from the absence of religious perspective in its midst, that this absence contributes to the misunderstanding or, more charitably, the incomplete understanding a predominantly secular liberal academy has about religious people and society in general and that this may also affect the overall quality of undergraduate education in such institutions. I am inclined to agree. Lord knows (no pun intended), some of the authors’ comments on this blog evince, to put it mildly, such incomplete understanding. For that matter, if Mr. Scholz and others can’t see that, I’m not sure I can show it to them. I have already noted that I don’t see anything I have said as a covert brief for Creationists on the biology faculty, and I quite agree with Mr. Scholz that comforting students is not the job of a university. I hope he might agree with me that comforting “left leaning atheist” professors isn’t its job, either.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Mar 5, 2005 11:40:49 PM


Posted by: skeptic


Perhaps producing a bonafide miracle (seen by naked eye or videoataped) might be required of any theologians before admittance to professor status. Astrologers and psychics are only as good or reliable as their prognostications; similarly, the theologian (i.e., a member of a sanctioned, official school of parapsychology) should be required to demonstrate his skill in summoning up the supernatural entities and events he takes for granted.

Posted by: skeptic | Mar 6, 2005 12:14:22 AM


Posted by: noah

A couple of years ago I was astoinished that an aquaintance of new Age lefty inclination was planning to visit a nearby university to consult with a resident shaman about his health problems.

Now that is out of the mainstream in spades!! But intelligent design?...no, no, no. Not that I believe in ID either.

Posted by: noah | Mar 6, 2005 6:05:39 AM


Posted by: Stephen Scholz

I am still having trouble conveying my issue. I will try to do this in the form of a test.
Can someone (Ridgely?) give us, some idea of what exactly a Theologian could explain to a non-believer that a Religious Studies Professor could not? This is a trick question, because if ou can tell us, than presuambly so could someone else.
So what are some possible alternatives?

Posted by: Stephen Scholz | Mar 6, 2005 10:48:27 AM


Posted by: Peter Wizenberg

There are many philosophers who are theists. (See for example, the book, "Philosophers Who Believe". But bringing a 'religious' perspective to bear upon issues is tendentious, as the multiple perspectives of many varying religious systems may contradict one another. Of course, religion per se is a worthy object of study.

Moreover, why a 'religious' perspective? (What about a 'Voodoo' perspective?) Why not an astrologcial perspective? Or other mystical perspectives? Perhaps we should concur with Feyerabend and maintain that science and 'rational' discourse should not be a privileged mode of inquiry.

Perhaps not.

Posted by: Peter Wizenberg | Mar 6, 2005 11:28:40 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Scholz may not believe me, but I am not entirely unsympathetic to his issue. On the other hand, without recourse to some pseudo-Wittgensteinian notion of ‘forms of life’ (and at the risk of being derided by Mr. Danby), let me approach the answer obliquely by returning to both the issue of conservatives in university faculties and try to link that (also obliquely) to ethnic studies, womens’ studies, etc.

If Mr. Scholz wishes to assert that in principle a university could put together a women’s studies or ethnic studies program or gay studies program comprised entirely of straight, male WASP faculty members which would be every bit as rigorous, insightful, etc. as one that included women, ethnic minorities and homosexuals among its faculty, I cannot (nor would I try to) dispute such a claim. Similarly, if he asserts that “left leaning” (his phrase, not mine) faculty can teach Burke or Austrian economics just as well or, say, be every bit as even-handed teaching “Anarchy, State & Utopia” as “A Theory Of Justice,” etc., I have no way in principle of categorically refuting such a claim.

I suggest, however, that there is a real difference between sympathy and empathy and that it manifests itself cognitively. I suggest that it is prima facie implausible that such an ethnic studies program will be as rigorous or insightful, that however well-meaning, intelligent, etc. our straight WASP males may be, they won’t bring the same sorts of sensitivities (have the same antennae, as it were) as women, ethnic minorities or homosexuals. (I am not arguing that straight male WASPs therefore cannot be good scholars or teachers in these subjects; only that something would be missing if they were the only people doing so.) I suggest further that the same might be said, for similar but not identical reasons, regarding political and religious beliefs.

Mr. Scholz may disagree. I think, however, that even the best predominantly black schools or places like Wellesley or religious schools suffer for their lack of, well, diversity. (They may well offer compensations that more than make up for that lack; I wouldn’t argue that they don’t and I certainly am glad that prospective students have such choices.) Mr. Shiffrin’s concern was secular universities. Such places tend to be fairly large and, ahem, diverse. Suggesting that they might benefit from even greater diversity of different sorts is not an argument for diluting academic standards, not an argument for hiring token conservatives or theists and not an argument about making anybody more or less comfortable.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Mar 6, 2005 11:51:25 AM


Posted by: Steve Shiffrin

Five responses to some of the arguments made: (1) The anti-religious arguments do not speak to the question whether multicultural secular universities should commit themselves to an anti-religious perspective; (2) I do not see how hiring theologians betrays the secular character of universities. It seems to me that Harvard is still a secular university despite having a divinity school. A secular university like Harvard takes no position whether God exists by having a Divinity School any more than it would become an atheistic institution by having a course in atheism; (3) I do agree that the question of how many theologians to hire and from which traditions is difficult. But I do not think it is different in kind from the kinds of decisions made in curricular and hiring decisions in Government departments, or, for that matter, most departments. The question I would raise is why religion is considered special; (4) Generally, if I want to learn about the Jewish tradition, I think I would be best off learning from a Jewish theologian (who is also a believer, cf. John Stuart Mill), but it would never occur to me to require that a teacher or scholar of the Jewish tradition (or Catholic or Islamic etc.) be a believer; (5) Someone asserts that any particular religious tradition is publicly inaccessible. This is implausible. To be sure, if I claim that an angel appeared to me, the appearance is publicly inaccessible, but learning the beliefs of the religious tradition is not analogous. I read some parts of a book yesterday describing the ways in which evangelical Protestants critique Roman Catholics. I am outside that tradition, but it was not inaccessible. On the other hand, high level (or for that matter, low level) physics: that is inaccessible to me. I dwell on this because some philosophers maintain that religious arguments should be excluded from political life, not merely on the ground that such arguments deny respect to others (or a speculative concern about stability), but also on the ground that they are inaccessible. If the latter is true, so is much of the scientific grounding of policy arguments.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Mar 6, 2005 12:11:31 PM


Posted by: J.S.

I'm trying to get a dialogue going between the religious and non-religious since this largely parallels the gap between Left and Right in this country- if anyone is interested please check out:

http://voicesofreason.info

Thanks,
J.S.

Posted by: J.S. | Mar 6, 2005 1:22:09 PM


Posted by: Dwight

Steve,

When I made reference to the inaccessibility of some religious claims, I was making a point about the epistemology of religious discourse.

I thought the point of your post was to suggest that there might be something that a theologian brings to the classroom that scholars in religious studies, sociology, or philosophy do not. Presumably that would be a commitment to a faith tradition rather than simply an understanding of the beliefs of that tradition. If so, only students who share that faith tradition will be able to grasp what the theologian uniquely is contributing since it is grounded in a particular revelation. Unless, of course, you think that the role of public institutions is to encourage students to share a faith.

The comparision with science and public policy is not appropriate. Science may be difficult and time consuming to understand, and thus inaccessible to people who cannot invest the time, but it is not in principle unavailable to the public. That is in part why science is an objective inquiry.

If your point was to suggest that scholars in religious studies are not well versed in faith traditions and that theologians have a better grasp of their particular tradition, that is another matter. But that has not been my experience.

The issue of a divinity school is a unique case. Of course, one would hire theologians to teach in a divinity school at a public university, but most public institutions do not have divinity schools.

Posted by: Dwight | Mar 6, 2005 6:02:12 PM


Posted by: mw

Judging by the premises here, one of the ways that the left doesn't understand the right is that it doesn't seem to grasp that there's yet another cell in matrix -- the secular right (sometime referred to as 'South Park Republicans') who are certainly well represented in the blogosphere, and (if the anecdotes are true) apparently also in the undergrad student body.

Could it be that talking to the religious right is a bridge too far? Maybe it would be better to start with the secular right and work one's way up to dealing with the true exotics only after a period of acclimatization?

Posted by: mw | Mar 6, 2005 10:01:40 PM


Posted by: Ed

The "left" has not failed to understand the "right" although it is a different understanding than the right has of itself. The political leaders of the left have failed to incorporate the "religious left" with the left, or at least have done so to a much poorer degree than the right and the "religious right". Since the religiousness of leftist thinking has gone unpublicized, the right and the religious right are able to describe the left as "secularist", even though the right is equally secularist.

If the left want to rid themselves of the secularist label, they need to better comingle the message of the left with the message of the religious left. The main difficulty here is that secularism, meaning church/state separation, is an important principle to the left, so becoming comfortable with God-talk may be difficult. This is not a contradictory proposition because the religious left tend to also be secularists, so one can be both religious and secularist -- it is the right that turns them into opposites.

The notion that universities are partly to blame for this and therefore need to be part of the cure confuses a Political problem with a Knowledge problem. The only reason why a left-leaning college graduate needs to know more about the religious right is because of the political power of the religious right. If the religious left and the left could better coordinate their messages, there would be no need to study rightist theology or ideology. (Of course there still would be value in studying this, just as the right-leaning individual should find value in studying leftist theology and ideology -- there just would not be the same sort of need if the religious left were on an equal political footing with the religious right.)

Regarding the teaching of religion in a university setting, there is a big difference between a department of religion and a school of theology -- religion department produce better scholars while theology schools produce better believers. Lets leave theology to private religious schools please.

Posted by: Ed | Mar 7, 2005 1:04:35 AM


Posted by: Maureen

"My impression – though it is nothing more than an impression - is that even those universities with divinity schools, e.g., Harvard, Yale, Chicago, have not integrated them into undergraduate life"

Sir, just how much time have you spent at the University of Chicago? I have no particular interest in theology, but my resident heads are a graduate student at the Div School and a public relations offical for the Div School, I'm well-aware of the many public lectures delivered by such Divinity School professors as Martin Marty, Wendy Doniger, and David Tracy, and I probably know people who have taken classes at the Div School. Now, I'm not sure how much you wish graduate programs in theology to be integrated with undergraduate colleges, but I believe that the Divinity School is no further from undergraduate life than the Medical School or the Law School.

Posted by: Maureen | Mar 7, 2005 1:12:18 AM


Posted by: hick


Divinity school: i.e. American Ministries of Information. US protestantism is not about religion per se; it's about indoctrinating the young property owner/corporatist-to-be with the ideology of the conservative-consumer. Astrology is not taught in university, nor should it be: neither should theology be taught, except perhaps in history courses to show the injustices committed by various monotheists.

Posted by: hick | Mar 7, 2005 11:44:40 AM


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