[Paleopsych] Fish: One University, Under God?

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One University, Under God?
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.1.7

   One University, Under God?

    What will succeed high theory and race, gender, and class as the
    center of intellectual energy in academe? Religion.


    In an episode of the long-running TV drama Law and Order, the
    character Jack McCoy, an assistant district attorney, addresses a jury
    made up largely of Jews. The jury's composition has been engineered by
    the defendant's lawyer, who knew in advance that he would try to
    justify his client's act of homicide by saying that it had been done
    in the name of Israel and the Jewish people.
    McCoy challenges the jury: "Are you going to render your verdict as a
    citizen or as a Jew? Do you choose citizenship or culture?"
    It goes without saying that no network program would tackle an issue
    that did not resonate with the general public. That is especially true
    of Law and Order, which from its beginning has had its plots follow
    the headlines. Only if the tension between commitment to the rule of
    law and commitment to one's ethnic or religious affiliation was in the
    news would a television writer put it at the heart of a story.
    Nowadays, in the wake of September 11, there often seems to be nothing
    else in the news, as we continue to debate the questions that were
    being asked within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center: Is
    this a religious war? If so, what exactly is our religion? If not,
    what kind of war is it? Do the terrorists represent Islam or only some
    perverted version of that faith? Who is to say?
    But even before the events of September 2001, there was a growing
    recognition in many sectors that religion as a force motivating action
    could no longer be sequestered in the private sphere, where the First
    Amendment, as read in the light of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson,
    had seemed to place it.
    It was Locke who had proclaimed (in A Letter Concerning Toleration)
    that it was above all necessary to "distinguish exactly the business
    of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just
    bounds between the one and the other." Jefferson coined the phrase
    "wall of separation" and glossed it: "It does me no injury for my
    neighbor to say that there are twenty gods or no God; it neither picks
    my pocket nor breaks my leg."
    To be sure, there are many instances in our history when Locke's "just
    bounds" were not observed; but even so, for a long time it was still
    the presumption that the doctrine of religious freedom went in both
    directions: Individuals could freely practice their religion no matter
    what it might be, and the state could enter into its deliberations
    free of any concern that what it did might fall under the interdiction
    of religion.
    As we entered the last decade of the century, one could say that the
    wall of separation was pretty much in place. But in the last 15 years
    a lot has changed, and by 2000 observers were alert to the change and
    commenting on it. Peter Beinert, in the midst of the Bush-Gore
    election campaign, predicted that "religion will increasingly replace
    electoral politics as the realm where battles for the national soul
    are fought."
    We now know that he was not quite right: What we saw in the election
    of 2004 was the interpenetration of religion and electoral politics,
    with professions of personal faith becoming as important or more
    important than the announcement of policy positions.
    Some Roman Catholic bishops inveighed against John Kerry from the
    pulpit. A Gallup poll tells us that two out of three Americans believe
    that the problems of the nation can be solved by religion. The Left
    Behind books are a publishing phenomenon. One of the most popular
    movies of the year (or of any year) has its characters speaking Hebrew
    and Aramaic. Almost every athlete interviewed on television attributes
    his or her success to Jesus Christ. Every speech given by every
    politician ends with "God bless America." What's going on here?
    A full answer would require hundreds of columns and many books, but
    that answer would certainly take note of a number of developments: a
    growing lack of confidence in the capacity of the political process to
    do (or even recognize) the right thing; a feeling, sometimes vague and
    sometimes sharply articulated, that there is something missing at the
    heart of American life; the increasing political activism of
    fundamentalist faiths; the rise of "New Age" spirituality and the
    proliferation of "spiritual paths"; the emergence of "identity
    politics," politics that eschews universal standards of judgment in
    favor of judgments tied to group interests; the related emergence of
    multiculturalism, which honors the values of particular cultures and
    calls into question the availability or even the existence of an
    independent set of values recognized by all rational persons.
    There have also been specific signs: In 1995, the Supreme Court
    surprised many by ruling (in Rosenberger v. Rectors) that the
    University of Virginia must grant financial support to an evangelical
    magazine, on the reasoning that to deny it money would be to commit
    the First Amendment sin of viewpoint discrimination.
    A more recent decision (2002) opened the way to vouchers for
    church-supported schools so long as the money is funneled through
    parents and not given directly.
    So-called faith-based initiatives have been embraced by both major
    parties. In every sector of American life, religion is transgressing
    the boundary between private and public and demanding to be heard in
    precincts that only a short while ago would have politely shown it the
    And the academy is finally catching up. Not that religion has been
    absent from the university as an object of study. Courses like "The
    Bible as Literature" and "The American Puritan Experience" have been
    staples in the curriculum for a long time, as have related courses on
    the civil wars in 17th-century England and the religious poetry
    (formerly called "metaphysical") of the same period.
    The history of religion has always been a growth industry in academe
    and has brought along with it the anthropology of religion, the
    sociology of religion, the economics of religion, the politics of
    religion, and so forth.
    But it is one thing to take religion as an object of study and another
    to take religion seriously. To take religion seriously would be to
    regard it not as a phenomenon to be analyzed at arm's length, but as a
    candidate for the truth. In liberal theory, however, the category of
    truth has been reserved for hypotheses that take their chances in the
    "marketplace of ideas."
    Religious establishments will typically resist the demand that basic
    tenets of doctrine be submitted to the test of deliberative reason.
    (The assertion that Christ is risen is not one for which evidence pro
    and con is adduced in a juridical setting.) That is why in 1915 the
    American Association of University Professors denied to
    church-affiliated institutions of higher learning the name of
    "university"; such institutions, it was stated, "do not, at least as
    regards one particular subject, accept the principles of freedom and
    What that meant, in effect, was that in the name of the tolerant
    inclusion of all views in the academic mix, it was necessary to
    exclude views that did not honor tolerance as a first and guiding
    Walter Lippmann laid down the rule: "Reason and free inquiry can be
    neutral and tolerant only of those opinions which submit to the test
    of reason and inquiry." And what do you do with "opinions" (a word
    that tells its own story) that do not submit? Well, you treat them as
    data and not as candidates for the truth. You teach the Bible as
    literature -- that is, as a body of work whose value resides in its
    responsiveness to the techniques of (secular) literary analysis. Or
    you teach American Puritanism as a fascinating instance of a way of
    thinking we have moved beyond.
    Of course, there's still a lot of that, but alongside of it is a
    growing awareness of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of keeping
    the old boundaries in place and of quarantining the religious impulse
    in the safe houses of the church, the synagogue, and the mosque.
    Again the causes of this shift are many and would require volumes to
    explain, but some things seem obvious. The enormous effort of John
    Rawls to maintain the boundaries by elevating for public purposes
    one's identity as a citizen above one's identity as a believer has
    produced a vast counterliterature of its own, much of it opening up
    questions that the liberal academic establishment had thought long
    The debate was joined from another perspective in 1984 when Richard
    John Neuhaus published his enormously influential The Naked Public
    Square, a passionate argument against the exclusion from the political
    process of religious discourse. Not long afterward, Neuhaus
    established the journal First Things, a subsidiary of the Institute on
    Religion and Public Life "whose purpose is to advance a religiously
    informed public philosophy for the ordering of society."
    Many of the contributors to First Things are high-profile academics
    situated in our most distinguished private and public universities,
    and it is clear from their commentaries that they see no bright line
    dividing their religious lives from the lives they pursue as teachers
    and scholars.
    Following in the wake of Rawls and Neuhaus, any number of theologians,
    philosophers, historians, and political theorists have re-examined,
    debated, challenged, and at times rejected the premises of liberalism,
    whether in the name of religion, or communitarianism, or
    To the extent that liberalism's structures have been undermined or at
    least shaken by these analyses, the perspicuousness and usefulness of
    distinctions long assumed -- reason as opposed to faith, evidence as
    opposed to revelation, inquiry as opposed to obedience, truth as
    opposed to belief -- have been called into question. And finally (and
    to return to where we began), the geopolitical events of the past
    decade and of the past three years especially have re-alerted us to
    the fact that hundreds of millions of people in the world do not
    observe the distinction between the private and the public or between
    belief and knowledge, and that it is no longer possible for us to
    regard such persons as quaintly premodern or as the needy recipients
    of our saving (an ironic word) wisdom.
    Some of these are our sworn enemies. Some of them are our colleagues.
    Many of them are our students. (There are 27 religious organizations
    for students on my campus.) Announce a course with "religion" in the
    title, and you will have an overflow population. Announce a lecture or
    panel on "religion in our time," and you will have to hire a larger
    And those who come will not only be seeking knowledge; they will be
    seeking guidance and inspiration, and many of them will believe that
    religion -- one religion, many religions, religion in general -- will
    provide them.
    Are we ready?
    We had better be, because that is now where the action is. When
    Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted to know
    what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender,
    and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I
    answered like a shot: religion.

    Stanley Fish, dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and
    Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes a monthly
    column on campus politics and academic careers. For an archive of his
    previous columns, see


    3. http://chronicle.com/jobs/archive/advice/game.htm

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