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December 20, 2006

Incomplete Education

Religion: At Harvard, it was almost in. Now it looks like it's out, again. (H/T Thunderstruck)

. . . The "Reason and Faith" requirement was presented as a way to "help students become more informed and reflective citizens." In a world where faith shapes everything from international relations to presidential elections, it is hard to argue with the idea that everybody ought to know something about religion.

Yet that is exactly what Harvard's faculty did. At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, only religion scholar Diana Eck spoke out in favor of the proposal. In a stinging piece in the Harvard Crimson, the psychologist Steven Pinker argued that the persistence of religion is "an American anachronism . . . in an era in which the rest of the West is moving beyond it." By ignoring the salience of faith to most of the world's population, Mr. Pinker inadvertently demonstrated the need for a course in religion. A visit to virtually any African nation (or Paris suburb, for that matter) would quickly dispel the notion that America is alone in its piety.

In any case, the religion requirement failed to carry the day. Last week the task force announced that it had withdrawn the "Reason and Faith" course proposal, replacing it with a requirement on "what it means to be a human being." If, as Stanley Fish argues, religion is where the action is in academia, Harvard failed to act.

Fortunately, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Princeton and UCLA have not followed Harvard's lead. Harvard's faculty have made the Veritas Forum and the Harvard Ichthus all the more valuable today.

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