Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pitzer takes the lead on major in secularism

Pitzer College has introduced a major in secular studies. It makes total sense - and I think it is a great idea. Hampshire does not have majors. Otherwise, it would have been an excellent place to experiment with an inter-disciplinary major in secularism.   The role of secularism - both in the religious and in the political sense - is being discussed more and more. The number of Americans who identify themselves with no religion has been increasing consistently, and now stands at 15%. Of course, one can also look at secularism from a political perspective, and that can open up a whole area of study and can include fascinating debates that are currently taking place in the middle east. The focus of secular studies at Pitzer, it seems, is on the former than the latter:

 Starting this fall, Pitzer College, a small liberal arts institution in Southern California, will inaugurate a department of secular studies. Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.”
The department was proposed by Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, who describes himself as “culturally Jewish, but agnostic-atheist on questions of deep mystery.” Over the years he grew increasingly intrigued by the growth of secularism in the United States and around the world. He studied and taught in Denmark, one of the world’s most secular countries, and has written several books about atheism.

At some places, such studies are folded into sociology or philosophy or even under religious studies. But I think this a good time to bring inter-disciplinary focus and treat secularism as a separate field:

 Studying nonbelief is as valid as studying belief, Mr. Zuckerman said, and the new major will make that very clear.
“It’s not about arguing ‘Is there a God or not?’ ” Mr. Zuckerman said. “There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious. You have some countries where huge percentages of people — Czechs, Scandinavians — now call themselves atheists. Canada is experiencing a huge wave of secularization. This is happening very rapidly.
“It has not been studied,” he added.

Very interesting. Read the full article here. If you are interested in this topic, you should definitely check out Tom Rees' excellent blog, Epiphenom


obreption said...

You make a good point about terms. In Britain, some churches get very touchy and assume that a secularist is an atheist, and also often assume that someone who thinks that secularisation theory is a fact of life in Western Europe is also an atheist.

The role of the church and state is an intersting one in the UK. The Church of England is established only in England and is Episcopalian. In Scotland, the Church of Scotland is established but is Presbyterian - which means that it enjoys some protection from the state, but no interference. The Church of England has some bishops who sit in the House of Lords as of right. I'm always fascinated in America where you have to wear a religion on your sleeve to get voted in - with all the fuss about Obama's birth certificate, a likely Mormon contender and a converted Catholic contender and I think Donald Trump who might be wearing something on his sleeve (if not on his head).

By the way, there is still some 'concern' in England about creationism being mentioned in some state schools with a faith ethos. Should it be taught in religious education or in science? I think sometimes they miss the point ...

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