Spreading The Word

Religious Studies gets a second life. What does the Supreme Court think?

The twist to Locke v. Davey is that Davey went on to Harvard Law School, where he is now in his first year—suggesting his undergraduate religious education was as much (or more) academic as devotional. Or perhaps some schools don't find it necessary to separate religion from the rest of life.

Pellegrini admits it's a balancing act. "Students may bring their particular identities or faith commitments to the classroom. The question is, what do they do with them? Calling something 'theology' does not settle the question, because such a course could be approached devotionally by one student, and philosophically or in a more secular respect by another," she says. "The academic study of religion asks students to step back from devotional responses."

photo: Insu Lee

In the end, religion may be less like the human appendix, and more like our opposable thumbs—a trait shaping our species' history. When asked why religious studies matters more than ever, Castelli says, "We have a president in the White House who routinely quotes the Bible and rationalizes political decisions through recourse to that kind of biblical authority. So, it matters, whether or not you believe in the Bible, how this person is reading the Bible and using it. That's just one example, but there are a lot of them."

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