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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 1998

Good review silent on main drawback to enlarging the role of religion

Keith Cassidy's review of George Marsden's books (Bookshelf, November) was one of the most interesting and provocative pieces I have seen on the Bookshelf page. Prof. Cassidy's collection of materials is useful and his ability to summarize complex arguments is impressive. I would call it quite a "friendly" review concluding as it does that what Marsden is seeking is "a truly inclusive scholarship and university curriculum."

One could cite historical examples of religion having quite a different effect on education, but my main reservation is with what is not in the review. I do not see that Prof. Cassidy -- or for that matter Marsden -- addresses what I believe many would consider the main drawback to enlarging the role of religion in our universities: the fact that religious faith involves an irrational leap into a belief that cannot be proved or, perhaps, understood, as Kirkegaard argued.

This is not to say, of course, that good Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. cannot be good university teachers, but that to the extent that they put their faith at the centre of their teaching, as Marsden seems to invite and Prof. Cassidy approve, they are introducing an intellectual and spiritual conflict into the heart of our enterprise, whose centre, I take it, is teaching critical thought.

Having said even that much, I realize how much more could be said on both sides. There is at least another book here, and I hope someday to read a review of it in the Bulletin. Meantime, thanks for the Cassidy review.

Professor Emeritus of English, University of British Columbia