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17 - Teaching about religion at the state university: taking the issue seriously and strictly

from Part III - Teaching religion

Scott S. Elliott
Affiliation:
Adrian College, Michigan, USA
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Summary

Because of the public and tax-supported nature of the state university, it is inappropriate to teach religion there. As an institutional arm of a pluralistic society, the state university is expected to limit itself to teaching about religion. Yet, the study of religion in the United States did not originate in state institutions but under the aegis of theological seminaries and the divinity schools connected with major private universities. Thus, professors who found themselves teaching in state universities were often trained in the methods and atmospheres of private and parochial institutions of higher learning. As a result, it is easy to forget the limitations of the public university, which has more in common with the public elementary and secondary school system. On the other hand, for many it may be more fun, fulfilling, and rewarding to do what is constitutionally inappropriate at the state university—to teach religion.

There are a number of reasons why this is so. The first is that most people who enter the scholarly profession of religious studies have done so for reasons other than merely to teach about religions. They have somehow felt that the study of religion is existentially relevant. It is not merely the learning of more information, but the doing of something to the individual. Often for the person entering the field the study has been a part of some existential search, and that search became the motivation for religious study.

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Reinventing Religious Studies
Key Writings in the History of a Discipline
, pp. 103 - 110
Publisher: Acumen Publishing
Print publication year: 2013

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