The Chronicle’s View: Religious Studies an Educational Asset

Religious studies belong in the U’s curriculum. If we have programs that explore the intimacies of ethnic and gender identity, why not religion?

It’s not as if some courses on religion do not already exist at the U. But they are scattered throughout departments and are often taught by professors with only a side interest, not a formal education, in religious studies.

College of Humanities Dean Robert Newman’s effort to combining these courses under a common theme represents an important first step to establishing a religious studies program. Despite the problems?lack of funding, knowledge gaps and fear of reprisals, the young program would face?ultimately, academic life at this university would benefit.

Fear that such a program would rub a largely conservative and Mormon Utah State Legislature the wrong way may make some administrators wary. This is a legitimate fear. Perceptions of anti-Mormon bias led to the audit of the U’s Medical School and has damaged the relationship between the state’s flagship university and those who fund it.

However, two other state universities, Utah State University and Snow College are also hammering out proposals for religious studies programs.

The U should not be left behind. In a state where religion plays such a large part in so many individual lives and shapes the dynamics of our society so greatly, we cannot pretend it does not exist without risking academic credibility.

A few members of our community may find discussions in these classes threatening. However, both faculty and teaching assistants would be trained in religious sensitivity. The fear of painful incidents, like the one involving ethnic studies’ teaching assistant Amadou Niang, would be avoided.

If Newman’s program is successful, as it should be, its growth must continue. Eventually, the College of Humanities will have to fully dedicate financial and faculty resources to build the religious studies program from its humble beginnings.