Sunday, February 28, 2010

Religion in Education

I was dismayed by this article by Lisa Miller in a recent issue of Newsweek. While reviewing and revising Harvard's core curriculum, a faculty advisory panel proposed that students be required to take a course in "Reason and Faith."  They scrapped this proposal after the vocal protestations of a celebrity professor campaigning against what he perceives to be the irrationality of faith.

I highly doubt that the advisory panel was suggesting that students be indoctrinated with faith or even that they leave the course believing that reason and faith are equal paradigms for understanding the world. I suspect, rather, that the panel sought to spark discussions about the role of religion in society, science, history and politics. Whether you are a believer or not, no informed person could discount the role religion has played and continues to play in almost every aspect of human life.

That the advisory panel backed down in the face of opposition from a self-promoting professor makes me question Harvard's relevance. Accusations of ivory tower elitism are nothing new for this institution or any of the hundreds of other excellent colleges and universities in this country that strive to produce thoughtful, engaged, analytical young adults. I would never suggest that all learning must be applicable to experiences in everyday life; liberal-arts schools do not offer vocational training. But until a student has been armed with factual knowledge and critical-thinking tools, how can he possibly hope to play a role in a society where every interaction will require an understanding of religious differences?

Religion is an important part of human society. Students who have not grappled with faith's many intricacies are poorly equipped for a reasoned life.

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for Newsweek

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