More on Religion and Secularism

I had just posted on the pope and Habermas, and I came across this story on madison.com about the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin giving an official welcome to the annual Freedom from Religion conference. For a sense of how problematic discourse about religion’s role in American society and politics is, check out the comments.

But it’s not just random folks who comment on newspaper articles. Here’s something by Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University who is studying “how natural and social scientists at top research universities understand religion, ethics, and spirituality.”

Her research has found that of the scientists she’s studied, about 50% of them label themselves “religious” and 1/5 attend religious services. So far so good. She continues by pointing out that most scientists want to come questions of religion, morality, and value out of the classroom. They see university science departments as the lone holdout against the onslaught of fundamentalism in the US.

But Ecklund herself seems to have a fairly unsophisticated notion of religion or of the academic study of religion. She somewhat gratuitously points out in her opening paragraph that a third of the  prominent  research universities were founded with a Christian purpose in mind and that while some retain divinity schools, most have a department or program in Religious Studies.

Later in the essay, while discussing scientists’ efforts to keep religion out of their classrooms, she observes: “And religious viewpoints are relegated to separate, isolated departments and programs.” One wonders whether she has ever encountered a member of the Religion Department at Rice. Most of them are probably as strident in silencing fundamentalists in class as their colleagues in the sciences.

Habermas’ statement that I quoted in the previous entry is good advice for scientists and social scientists, too: “the content of religion must open itself up to the normatively grounded expectation that it should recognize for reasons of its own the neutrality of the state towards worldviews, the equal freedom of all religious communities, and the independence of the institutionalized sciences.”

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