The Harvard way of getting religion

crew at harvard The smart folks over at Harvard University came out with their report on how to overhaul the general education curriculum, more commonly known as the core curriculum. As expected, the requirement asking students to study religion as a particular subject was dropped. I found it curious that The Boston Globe ignored the religious angle until the ninth paragraph, but that did not stop the Associated Press and Reuters from proclaiming that the subject of religion would be included in the curriculum, just not as previously proposed. If you're confused about the difference, you're not alone. As best I can tell, the members of the committee found it best to tuck religious studies into a broader category:

An earlier proposal would have made Harvard unique among its elite Ivy League peers by requiring undergraduates to study religion as a distinct subject, but that was dropped in December.

The changes to the general-education requirements, imposed on students outside their major, still address religious beliefs and practices. Study of those issues, however, would be folded into a broader subject of "culture and belief."

How is this different from what Harvard has now? Neither article told us, but I'm told that under the existing curriculum students had to take a class under the category of Moral Reasoning, which included some courses about religion but others that were closer to secular philosophy.

After my first post on the issue, reader Eric Chaffee asked why Moral Reasoning was dumped. That's a good question reporters haven't really answered. My impression is that the university is making the change for the sake of change, but it is definitely worth following up on.

What is most interesting in the AP and Reuters stories on the report is this fact:

"Harvard is a secular institution but religion is an important part of our students' lives," it said. It noted that 94 percent of Harvard's incoming students report that they discuss religion "frequently" or "occasionally," and 71 percent say that they attend religious services.

While that is a rather vague stat, one has to wonder how it compares with other secular universities. There is a story to tell about the status of religion at Harvard, and I'll be waiting for someone to tell it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy