Here is an interesting story about how many Muslim female students prefer university life on Catholic campuses. Though the story somehow still manages to snicker at Catholic higher education — would it be so intolerably wrong, one wonders, to require a single course in Catholic thought or history at a Catholic university? — it conveys the comfort of devout Muslim students within a Catholic university. Though the story does not mention it, President John Garvey of Catholic University once made similar statements about the religious life of Muslim students at Catholic University in response to a cooked-up, and subsequently discredited, controversy.
That’s the verdict of the Student Judiciary at the State University of New York at Buffalo, which has reinstated the local chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship as a campus student organization. Earlier this year, the Student Senate had revoked recognition because of Intervarsity’s requirement that leaders in the organization affirm traditional Christian beliefs, including beliefs about homosexuality. Last December, the chapter’s treasurer, who is gay, told the university’s student newspaper that he had been pressured to resign because he would not sign a statement affirming the truth of Biblical passages, including passages condemning homosexual conduct. The Senate believed this episode showed that Intervarsity violated the university’s non-discrimination policy, but the Judiciary disagreed, arguing that one must distinguish between membership and leadership in a student organization. Intervarsity was open to all SUNY-Buffalo students, including gay students, the Judiciary explained; but “it is common sense, not discrimination, for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs.” Similar disputes about the religious freedom of student groups have occurred recently at other American universities, including Vanderbilt, and of course, UC-Hastings Law School, the subject of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in CLS v. Martinez. Martinez held that an “all-comers” policy requiring student religious organizations to open their leadership to all students regardless of belief is constitutionally permissible. That’s not to say an all-comers policy is constitutionally required, however.
I’m posting today from the biannual Conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools (RALS), hosted this year by Sam Levine at Touro. The first panel this morning, on which I participated, was titled “The Place of Law and Religion Institutes in the Law School and University.” The panel made clear how many such institutes exist in American law schools and how diverse are their interests. I spoke about our Center for Law and Religion here at St. John’s. Our center focuses on religion as a legal and sociological phenomenon and treats the subject from a broadly interfaith and comparative perspective. Elizabeth Schiltz, director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy at St. Thomas, described her center as having a slightly different focus, rooted more specifically in the Catholic intellectual and legal tradition. Elizabeth Clark, associate director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU, described her center’s primary concern as promoting religious freedom around the world. Of course, there is a lot of overlap in the matters the centers cover. Yet the diversity of focus is a great sign that law and religion is a growth area in American law schools and that there is plenty of work to go around.
This year Oxford University Press will publish No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education by Professors Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen and Douglas Jacobsen of Messiah College. Please see the publisher’s abstract below.
Drawing on interviews with hundreds of university professors, co-curricular educators, administrators, and students from public and private colleges and universities across the United States, Douglas and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen demonstrate that religion is central to the work of higher education in the twenty-first century.
Religion Matters begins with an examination of the history of religion in American society and higher education, from Protestant establishment to secular dominance to the much more complex and pluralistic dynamics of the culture today. The authors define religion carefully, identifying three different modes of faith: historic religion, public religion, and personal religion. The second half of the volume explores six educational topics where religion intersects with the core goals and purposes of college/university education: religious literacy, interfaith etiquette, framing knowledge, civic engagement, convictions, and character and vocation. The authors pose key questions: What should an educated person know about the world’s religions? What does it mean to interact appropriately with members of other faiths? What assumptions and rationalities, secular or religious, shape the way we think? What values and practices, secular or religious, guide civic engagement? How do personal beliefs interact with the teaching and learning process? How might colleges and universities point students toward lives of purpose and meaning?
This volume shows that by paying careful and nuanced attention to the role of religion, educators can enhance intellectual life in any college or university.