Fresh perspectives on today’s news by: Whymrhymer

A Harvard University committee with the responsibility for recommendations on new curriculum (Harvard’s Task Force on General Education) has recommended that all Harvard students should be required, as part of their general education requirement, to take one course in a new area of study that they have named: “Reason and Faith.”

This is not to say that Harvard, up until now, has not had a religious study program. The Harvard Divinity School has been around since 1816; the Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions was started in 1960 and the Women’s Studies in Religion Program came into existence in 1973. The Reason and Faith curriculum, however, will be (if the committee’s recommendations are implemented by Harvard’s administration) the first required study in the areas of religion and faith in Harvard’s recent history. In particular, the recommendation is for the university to develop courses that would explore “the interplay between religion and various aspects of national and or international culture and society.” They stress that this is not a religious studies course but rather a course that examines the role of religion on events, “personal, cultural, national, or international.”

However positive this move may sound to the outside observer, there are those ‘closer to the action’ who ask the question:

“Why is the Task Force on General Education afraid of teaching religion?”

This is the lead-in in an article in this morning’s edition of the Harvard Crimson; Harvard’s well-established daily newspaper. The authors of this article, Adam Solomon and Christopher Sullivan argue that the curriculum committee’s recommendations treat “the study of religion itself with contempt.” Solomon and Sullivan argue that the requirement should focus on “the fundamental principles of religious thought;” they basically argue that every other field of study in the university requires a thorough understanding of principles, without which a study of the application of those principles would be superficial and misleading. “The committee’s implication is clear,” they say, “religion may be useful as a lens through which we can better see our society, but it has less intrinsic value as a field of study than, say, science, history, or literature.”

It will be interesting to see if Harvard might lead the way for other universities in the exploration of the impact of “faith” on society and even more interesting to see just how deeply they might go into an understanding of the principles of faith.

What would be fascinating, an not an unlikely option in this secular age, is a course that explores the psychology behind faith-based reasoning.


The Albany Times Union: U.S. colleges must start dialogues on reason, faith

The National Review Online: General Education at Harvard

The Harvard Crimson: Religion for Religion’s Sake

From the blogosphere:

The Blog of M’Gath: Reason, faith, and Harvard

The Christian Mind: Faith and Reason at Harvard

Whymrhymer’s fresh perspectives on today’s news, as published at BNN, also appear at My View from the Center. You are always welcome there!

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