Thursday, December 14, 2006

CNN: Harvard drops religion course requirement

CNN: Harvard drops religion course requirement:
BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- Harvard University has dropped a controversial proposal that would have required all undergraduates to study religion as part of the biggest overhaul of its curriculum in three decades, the university said on Wednesday.

Efforts to revamp Harvard's curriculum, which has been criticized for focusing too narrowly on academic topics instead of real-life issues, have been in the works for three years.

A proposal for a "reason and faith" course requirement, which would have set Harvard apart from many other secular universities and made it unique among its peers in the elite Ivy League, was made public in a preliminary report in October.

Harvard University began 370 years ago as an institution devoted to the training of ministers so as not "to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches." In addition, its charter of 1650 defined its mission as "the education of the English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness." See the History section of the Wikipedia article for further information.

With Harvard's rich history of rigorous academic pursuit that placed religion on a par with other fields, it is disappointing to see the apparent failure of this particular initiative.

As an undergraduate at Colorado State University in 1973, my advisor told me that, with the exception of the required Senior Seminar in Zoology, I should get out and take some courses in the LIberal Arts. I did so, and took 12 hours over the next year from the Philosophy Department, including Eastern and Western religions and Contemporary Western Religious Thought. The latter course introduced me to such people as Martin Buber, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Karl Barth. OK. They were all dead by the time I took the course, but at least I was alive during the latter years of their lives...

In any event, this was perhaps the most useful year of my education. I already had the number of credits I needed in the sciences, and I already had the required liberal arts credits. The question was how to allocate my electives. In retrospect, my advisor did me a great service by suggesting that I broaden my education, and I am grateful for his nudging me out of where I was comfortable to an area where I was required to think in a different way than I was used to.

Harvard (and other institutions of higher education) would do well to return to their liberal arts roots, at least at the undergraduate level, and graduate well-rounded students.

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