Monday, October 09, 2006

Harvard Gets Religion

Harvard is considering adding a new course in "Reason and Faith" to its core curriculum.

Zachary Steward's Wall Street Journal article quotes Prof. Louis Menand, co-chair of the curriculum committee, as saying "I think 30 years ago, people would have said that religion is not something that everyone needs to know. But today, few would disagree that religion is supremely important to modern life."

Harvard, whose original motto was Veritas pro Christo et ecclesia, seems to have forgotten some things about how the other 99% of humanity lives and what we value. It is refreshing to see them catch up with what is customary at most liberal arts colleges, like the one I teach in.

Seriously, Harvard is often a curriculum leader, especially for the secular research universities. I am glad that they have given up on the fantasy that religion will just go away, and are trying to bring their students "in the center of contemporary religious debates."


Brett said...

From the title of their course ("Reason and Faith"), it sounds like Harvard is already setting up a false dichotomy in the lives of many. And I would wager that "reason" wins over "faith" at Harvard every time.

I teach religious studies classes to undergraduates at Arizona State. One of my biggest challenges is to get students to look at religion as more than one aspect of life that is often trumped by other aspects. Rather, I encourage them to see religion as an intergrated and integral part of a human being's entire experience.

Also, "faith" is hardly a synonym for "religion." "Faith" both denotes and connotes that the central action of religion is belief. This is definitely not the case for many religious people, including many Christians. Again, my students are very concerned to learn the "beliefs" of other religious people and implicitly undervalue the other actions, rituals, and social structures that also make up religion.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. I think they are likely to start with a false dichotomy. I understand that their idea is to get students to see that religion is involved in many Important Things. I expect they will not frame the issue, frame every issue as a question of worldview, including the secular one dominant at Harvard.

Edith OSB said...

I don't know how Harvard chose their title, but it echoes a major encyclical of Pope John Paul II (Fides et Ratio ) which argues, as Pope Benedict XVI has recently, that faith and reason, when used as God intended, work together.

I teach at a small Catholic college where students are required to take at least one course about religion. A few on the faculty point to the claim that theology legitimately makes on one's life: it is not a subject where knowing about others' beliefs is sufficient.

The language of "knowing about" religion still seems to keep any real faith, Christian or otherwise, at arm's length, as not quite proper in the Academy.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. And I think the choice to call the course Reason and Faith, rather than the more usual Faith and Reason, is a signal about which term they think controls the discussion.