17 September 2010

Religious Studies Thrive In Troubled Times

Religious Studies Thrive In Troubled Times (Newsweek, 12 September 2010)


But elsewhere, the study of religion thrives, often in surprising places. Sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists are all getting into the religion game, trying to discover the roots of human religious belief and bring quantitative methods to bear on the study of religious practice. A small but growing number of economists are endeavoring to measure the impact of the business cycle on religiosity—and, conversely, the impact of religiosity on prosperity. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, long home to one of the country’s most innovative religion departments, two new courses illustrate religious studies’ shift in emphasis. One, The Evolutionary and Cognitive Science of Religion, looks at the religious impulse of the human mind; the other, Origins: A Dialogue Between Scientists and Humanists, is cross-listed as a physics course and is UCSB’s answer to the broader culture’s larger “faith versus reason” debates.

Public universities often host the best religion departments. For one thing, they are newer and don’t have to cope, institutionally, with a legacy of Christian origins. And, as recipients of taxpayer money, they have to be very clear about their secular framework: they can’t teach students to be religious; they have to teach about religion.