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Sunday Syllabus — 10/1/2017

Sunday Syllabus is a round-up of interesting articles and links that I came across over the last week. I sometimes provide a little commentary or raise questions. The content is not necessarily brand new, just new to me. If you have a recommendation, use the contact form. No promises.

The theme of this week is secularism and religion, particularly in academic settings.


A Christianity Today interview with Claremont professor Mary Poplin discusses “secular exclusivity” and “secular privilege.” Poplin asserts that certain sectors of society, especially academia, privilege secular ideologies and worldviews in a way that undermines rather than promotes pluralism.

Sarabeth Caplin, a Christian graduate student, wrote a response to the interview, in which she offers her own experience of university pluralism as a participant in interfaith dialogue and the academic study of religion. In my opinion, both Poplin and Caplin raise points worth consideration, but their concerns overlap only partially.

Nonreligious religion blogger (that wasn’t awkward to type) Bob Seidensticker raises questions about scholarship coming from institutions with explicit faith statements. How does this kind of restriction of academic freedom affect our evaluation of the scholarship produced under it? Is it analogous to a conflict of interests? (Note: Poplin glossed over this comparison in her CT interview.)

If public higher education in the United States often comes with a politically leftward and secular tilt, it remains the case that cultural conservatives wield considerable power over lower education. The history of God in public schools shows many examples of covert religious, usually Protestant, indoctrination. Constitutional violations are rampant Students are coerced to pray during sporting events, and staff at meetings. Students are illegally threatened with punishment for failing to conform to certain cultural norms around the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Turning from a narrative of conflict to one of collaboration, two Catholic priests and a Yale history professor were arrested together during a demonstration against forced deportation. America has a history in which student activism and religious activism worked side by side, and that is possible even now, even in the Ivy League.

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