Teaching Religion, Faith in Universities

Manila Bulletin, August 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

Teaching Religion, Faith in Universities


MANILA, Philippines - Harvard University, only 25 years younger than our University of Santo Tomas, also started as a training ground for Christian ministers. In fact, its flagship program was a course in theology which is still being taught in its Divinity School.

As Lisa Miller wrote in Newsweek (February 11, 2010) in an article entitled "Harvard's Crisis of Faith," Veritas was only officially adopted as its motto in 1843; until then it had been Christo et Ecclesiae ("For Christ and the Church"). The irony is that an initiative to include religion in its core curriculum failed because of a strong lobby of some secularists in its faculty.

As Ms. Miller reported: "This question of how much religion to teach led to a bitter fight when the faculty last discussed curriculum reform in 2006. Louis Menand, the Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic and English professor, together with a small group of colleagues tasked with revising Harvard's core curriculum, made the case that undergraduate students should be required to take at least one course in a category called Reason and Faith.

These would explore big issues in religion: Intelligent design, debates within and around Islam, and a history of American faith, for example. Steven Pinker, the evolutionary psychologist, led the case against a religion requirement. He argued that the primary goal of a Harvard education is the pursuit of truth through rational inquiry, and that religion has no place in that." Unfortunately for Harvard students, the anti-religion lobby won the debate.

When I left for Harvard more than 50 years ago to start my graduate studies in economics, I remember some of my teachers at De La Salle College warning me that I could lose my faith in that "Godless" institution. I realized that their fears were exaggerated because in my four years in the university, I met many, both in the faculty and among the students, who practiced their respective faiths.

The Harvard community in the early 1960s was no different from what it is now. Ms. Miller quotes Jay Harris, the dean who administers the General Education program: "We have a very strong evangelical community. We have women walking around in hijabs. Harvard students are increasingly churchgoing, Bible-studying, and believing. …

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