Should Your College Require the Study of Religion? No way!

Mary E Latela

Response to The Top Five Reasons to Study Religion by Gary Laderman, Chair of the Department of Religion, Emory University, updated: 08/03/2015 2:59 pm EDT http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-laderman

Reading Gary Laderman’s article about “pitching religion” as a concentration for college students sent me back at least thirty years, when you went to college, and the profs and the dean told you what courses to take. At my college, we were required to complete all the philosophy and theology courses that a man would complete to prepare for the seminary. I happened to love these courses, but not everyone understood why we had to take them.

As for “pitching” a major, that’s an old idea, out-of-fashion, and mostly inappropriate. You cannot guarantee that completing a course of studies will provide a job, cause you to be happier, open up your world. Besides, many schools encourage students to formulate their own concentration with the help of an academic mentor /advisor. There’s plenty of room for experimenting, changing one’s mind, etc.

As a college instructor of philosophy and religious, I find that many of my students have given up on religion, or resist the requirement that they attend Mass or do religion one way, as in Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist. They were not encouraged to ask questions when they were younger, nor to doubt what they were taught. At this point, they need to ask questions, express doubts, examine their own biases.

Suppose you managed to require students to take a world religions course. How will you ensure that the instructor really has studied these many ways to God? Do you want a Roman Catholic priest to teach Hinduism? A Buddhist to teach Judaism? Only if they really understand that particular religious expression.

College is not the place for filling up the mind with “stuff,” but the place for sorting out the clutter and making room for critical thinking, argument building, and reflection.  It’s where you may widen your circle, as long as you try to refrain from name-calling and exclusion. You may learn quite a bit from a person who self-identifies as atheist.

Mary E Latela @LatelaMary, mlatelablog.wordpress.com

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