Subcommittee's Review of Religion Courses to Raise Deeper Questions


The Faculty subcommittee that met last week to discuss how to classify the University's religion courses may find itself dealing with a long-standing controversy--exactly how religion will be taught at Harvard.

The Faculty has long debated how to fit courses taught by Divinity School, professors into the Arts and Sciences curriculum. Kristor Stendahl, Frothingham Professor of Biblical Studies, has said that one possible solution would be to have all religion courses directed by the Committee on Higher Degrees in the Study of Religion, which now only supervises the Ph.D. program in religions.

Members of both Faculties have questioned whether a professional school should take an active part in undergraduate teaching. The problem, Krister Stendahl, chairman of the subcommittee, says, is deciding "what it means to teach religion in the context of arts and sciences and what it means to teach ministers."

An alternative solution is the creation of an autonomous religion department under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, modeled after the Comparative Literature Department. This department would appoint men as needed to teach specific courses. The problem of deciding, time after time to appoint Divinity School men to direct undergraduate courses would thus be avoided.

But the creation of a distinct field of religions within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences might engender other problems. The traditional feeling has been that religion is a "special" discipline that cannot be studied objectively in its own right, as philosophy or history can.


Many state universities and most Ivy League colleges, however, have changed their conception of religion on a field of study and have recently established religion departments.

In keeping with this attitude, Harvard's policy has been to teach religion only in the context other fields--e.g., approaching it from sociological or psychological point of view. The question is not whether religion should be studied, but how it should be approached

The question which the present sub committee is considering is immediate and structural. It is doubtful that its recommendations will lead to far-reaching, theoretical controversies on the role of religion at Harvard College. Such a debate is the last thing members of the committee want, and it is likely that they will advise the CEP to continue the present arrangement for dealing with religion courses.

On the other hand, underlying the structural problem, there is the question of whether it is time to regard religion as an academic discipline in its own right. The fact that religion is treated here as a branch of the humanities and social sciences--there is a whole junior tutorial offered in the Soc Rel Department on the psychology of religion--seems to indicate that religion is a pertinent field of study apart from its spiritual function