Liberal Education

From the Editor

Focusing this issue on religion in the academic life of necessity requires choices about what will be covered, and thereby, what won't be covered. Religion as an academic discipline and campus ethos was, in general, the guiding rubric; that left out, for example, religious rituals and practices. When we planned the topic, its timeliness depended on increased student participation in courses on religion, activities on behalf of social justice, and interest in spirituality. And that was to be the subject of this column.

Then September 11 dawned, and our conversations were punctuated with questions of meaning, life, and death. For many, religion offered support, and religious ritual the expression of profoundly complex emotions. On campus, responses to the disaster were fitted to the situation: counseling for the emotional impact, service work to "do something," memorial candlelight services to ritualize a community's sorrow, and, spontaneously, classes adapted to the search for understanding. Professors, recognizing their students' needs, either forged new and relevant material into their courses or steadfastly forged ahead with their planned syllabus. It is, one administrator noted, a teachable moment.

At the same time, religion-however extremist-was, in some grim irony, openly recognized as a motivation of the terrorists. I am struck by the stark contrast between our democratic belief in religious pluralism that we both take for granted and benefit from, and the terrorists' commitment to a theocrataic model of government composed of only a single set of beliefs and tolerates no other.

And what have we learned about our students? Their spontaneous outpourings of mourning and service speak, among other things, of a reservoir of humane, spiritual, and religious values. In the reflected light of these painful events and responses, the articles assembled here delineate a timely portrait of religion on campus.


Bridget Puzon is the editor of Liberal Education

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