At Killing the Buddha, John D. Fitzgerald describes the inside of a little-known conservative Christian college in the heart of New York City.
Posts Tagged ‘higher education’
It is worthwhile to pause and ask why so many educators are committed to the suspension of religious identity in the classroom. After all, educators ordinarily encourage their students to bring to their studies a deep engagement with the material—that is, to bring their perspectives, experiences, commitments, and passions to the topics and issues at hand. But what about students’ religious commitments and perspectives? Why are these seen as a special case? Why ask students to bracket off religious beliefs from the stock of all their other beliefs, especially given the epistemological and psychological implausibility of achieving such bracketing? To some extent, students can express their religious perspectives by other means, including covert ones. Yet from an educational point of view, do we want our students to suppress the actual reasons (in this case, the religious reasons) that tacitly support their perspectives in the classroom? Can we justify placing this particular burden on students with religious perspectives?
Just as it is helpful for universities to think through constitutional aspects of federalism within the context of university governance, it can also be instructive for universities to follow a constitutional approach to secularism within a multifaith university environment. Contrary to popular opinion, the First Amendment does not mandate a “wall of separation” between religion and the state but, rather, prohibits the state from establishing or endorsing one religious tradition over another. According to First Amendment jurisprudence, it is possible for the state to engage with religion in a non-preferential, non-proselytizing capacity and still be considered “secular” in a constitutional context.
For once, practice actually lags behind theory. In their very interesting post on “Reconceiving the secular and the practice of the liberal arts,” Kahn, MacDonald, Oliver, and Speers find that the concerted academic revaluation of secularization and secularism has not trickled down to relatively elite private liberal arts colleges. In their account, these institutions remain committed, both explicitly and implicitly, to some version of a distinction between the secular and the religious: religious belief is fine, but it has no place in the classroom. This distinction, of course, is designed to protect the kinds of things that academic institutions hold dear: critical thought, intellectual freedom, tolerance, diversity. But, the authors wonder, might “uncritical assumptions about the secular” actually make these things harder, by “stripping some students and faculty of fundamental aspects of their identities—in particular, their religious identities”?
The problem as I see it is not that students in the liberal arts are somehow forbidden to argue their religious views but that, whether they are religious or secular, they do not get sufficient exposure to religious texts. These texts contain many strange and interesting things—often surprising to religious and unreligious students alike. They uncover possibilities of being human. But in order for these possibilities to emerge, they need to be approached in a secular spirit. That is, their specifically theological language needs to be translated into a conceptual language through which people can imagine a given possibility without a prior or subsequent adherence to it as the absolute truth.
The dismissal of Kenneth Howell, a University of Illinois adjunct professor of Catholic history and thought, has generated much discussion and commentary in the last week, most of it focusing upon the appropriateness, tone, and argumentative validity of an email that he sent to students prior to their Spring semester exam.
A university campus has become the ground for a political battle between conservatives and moderates in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pushed to take over Islamic Azad University, a private university, after it became a haven for political involvement in the Green Movement. This action seems to be directed at former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, founder and chairman of the board of Azad, who “all but allied himself with the Green movement” this past year.
In early June, the Claremont School of Theology announced that it would merge with its local Jewish and Muslim counterparts to form an inter-religious university this coming fall. Philip Clayton discusses the controversy this has aroused in conservative Christian communities.
Three of Insider Higher Ed’s most recent dispatches focus on a trifecta of problems in the academic study of religion.
As Wheaton College, known for decades as the “evangelical Harvard,” searches for a new president, the flagship evangelical institution stands at a crossroads. Writing in the SoMA Review, Cornell University philosopher Andrew Chignell (a member of the class of 1996) reports on the concerns many faculty members have about the school.