Carol Platt Liebau: Religion at Harvard

Monday, October 23, 2006

Religion at Harvard

The President of Notre Dame writes in the pages of The Washington Post to congratulate Harvard on reinstating a requirement that graduates know something of "the role of religion in contemporary, historical, or future events -- personal, cultural, national, or international."

One can only hope his optimism is justified. But here's one part of the described curriculum change that makes me nervous:

[T]he courses it envisions would offer an examination of "the interplay between religion and various aspects of national and/or international culture and society." They would deal not so much with the relationship between reason and faith as with reasoning about faith, religion and religious institutions and their impact in the world.

This could be great. But in an aggressively secular Ivy League world where religion, too often, is viewed as the province of the uneducated and superstitious, it could also become a vehicle for teaching impressionable young people that religious faith and institutions are the source of all the trouble in the world.

In other words, before anyone rejoices at Harvard's curriculum change, it makes sense to learn a bit more about the content of specific courses, rather than being satisfied with a description of them.


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