Religion at the U: Students respectful of religious discussion

By By Clayton Norlen

By Clayton Norlen

The classroom isn’t Sunday school or a meeting place for the village atheists, said Benjamin Crowe, a U professor in philosophy. However, discussions of religion are welcome in the classroom for an intellectual approach to understanding, he said.

Everyday topics related to religion are discussed in classrooms across the U, but religion and academia have butted heads on campus in the past.

During the 1998-1999 school year, former U student Christina Axson-Flynn filed a lawsuit against faculty members of the U’s Actor Training Program, claiming she was pressured to recite profanities that conflicted with her religious beliefs. The case was later settled in 2004, and as a result the U implemented a religious accommodation policy to allow students to request exemption from exercises that conflict with their religious beliefs. The Academic Senate approved the policy, which identifies a way for students to appeal for an accommodation and instructs faculty on how to deal with these situations, in 2005.

Despite the religious accommodation policy, students and professors feel that religious discussions are welcome in the classroom so long as people are sensitive and considerate of differing opinions.

“The student body is hungry for information on religion, and I find they’re incredibly open and keen to it,” Crowe said. “One thing people should be aware of is the religious complexities and traditions within a single religion. You want to avoid a one-dimensional look at any religion.”

Crowe said he rarely needs to remind the students in his classes to be respectful of religious beliefs.

“Some classes try to avoid the topic of religion, but other classes leave it open for discussion,” said Tenney Kerr, a junior in exercise physiology. “Professors try to keep the conversation respectful, but sometimes they can have backhanded remarks that shut students down.”

Religion and faith come up in a variety of ways in Kerr’s classes, she said. Kerr has noticed that students in her classes are open to learning and are respectful of religion, but not always open minded.

In the sciences, such as biology, religion isn’t a subject that can be addressed or tested by using scientific methods, so it isn’t discussed in classes. Dave Temme, a professor in the biology department, said that the contentions between faith and science arise when science uses everyday patterns to explain what used to be explained by the supernatural, such as gravity.

“Science can’t say the supernatural doesn’t happen or can’t happen,” Temme said. “Because (science) can’t study it, by definition a miracle isn’t repeatable.”

Temme said that education isn’t about having someone adopt your ideology, it is about getting them to think about how the world works and use scientific methods to explain as much as possible.

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