Press Releases

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Vassar College Features SSRC Experts on Role of Religion on College Campuses

Vassar College will host a roundtable discussion on "Secularity, Religion, and Higher Education" on Monday Sept. 17, 5:30 p.m., Rockefeller Hall, Room 200. The program is sponsored by the college and the Social Science Research Council, with support from the Teagle Foundation. Vassar and the SSRC are both engaged in Teagle Foundation projects related to religion and higher education. Download event flyer (PDF).

"In a time of renewed attention to campus religious life, many people seem surprised that religion hasn't gone away," said Sam Speers, Vassar's director of Religious and Spiritual Life. "That's in large part what has motivated our interest in looking at both secularity and religion in higher education." Speers is hosting the roundtable as part of the college's "Secularity and the Liberal Arts" program funded by the Teagle Foundation. The grant is supporting a consortium of campuses to explore whether and how secular assumptions frame the "big questions" students are asking in the classroom about what matters most to them and what they want to do in life.

"I'm part of an unlikely consortium of faculty and chaplains trying to sort out what it means for teaching and learning that we generally think of ourselves as secular liberal arts institutions," Speers continued. "By asking students questions about their commitments, we hope our programs will open up a wider conversation about how secular liberal arts institutions can best help students integrate what matters most to them with what they learn."

Two panelists - Courtney Bender and Neil Gross - were, along with Speers, contributors to the SSRC's new comprehensive online guide, The Religious Engagements of American Undergraduates, which is the product of a recent SSRC project on this topic launched with support from the Teagle Foundation. Bender is an associate professor of religion at Columbia University and Gross is an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University. Joining them on the panel is Rajeev Bhargava, a Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; among Bhargava's many publications is Secularism and its Critics (Oxford, 1998). Jonathon Kahn, an assistant professor of religion at Vassar College, will moderate the discussion.

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