- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

BOSTON — Harvard University, founded 370 years ago to train Puritan ministers, should again require all undergraduates to study religion, as well as U.S. history and ethics, a faculty committee is recommending.

The surprisingly bold recommendations come after years of rancorous internal debate over which courses should be required of all Harvard students. The current core curriculum has been criticized for focusing on narrow academic questions rather than real-world issues students likely will confront beyond the wrought-iron gates of Harvard Square.

The report calls for Harvard to require students to take a course in “reason and faith,” which could include classes on topics such as religion and democracy, Charles Darwin or a current course called “Why Americans Love God and Europeans Don’t.”

“Harvard is no longer an institution with a religious mission, but religion is a fact that Harvard’s graduates will confront in their lives,” the report says, noting that 94 percent of incoming students report discussing religion and 71 percent attend services.

“As academics in a university, we don’t have to confront religion if we’re not religious, but in the world, they will have to,” says Alison Simmons, a philosophy professor who co-chaired the committee.

The report, which has been circulated to faculty and whose contents were first reported Wednesday by the Harvard Crimson student paper, says Harvard students also “need to have an understanding of American history, American institutions, and American values,” calling for a requirement to study the United States in a comparative context with other countries.

The recommendations are the latest chapter in a lengthy, tumultuous saga over revamping the university’s core curriculum, which dates to the 1970s. Lawrence H. Summers made reform a priority in 2001 when he was university president, but the work of several committees bogged down and initial recommendations were criticized as weak. Mr. Summers resigned earlier this year, forced out by faculty anger about his handling of a range of matters, including the curriculum review.


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