April 6, 2006
Life in a theocracy, part 5
Another reason why religious education (subscriber link) is an oxymoron:
In Religion Studies, Universities Bend To Views of Faithful
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. – In 1993, the Mormon church excommunicated D. Michael Quinn, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the faith, whose writings had frequently contradicted the church’s traditional history.
Now, he has become a pariah in some higher-education circles as well.
Although Mormon studies is a fast-growing academic discipline, Mr. Quinn – a former professor at Mormon-run Brigham Young University and the author of six books on Mormon history – can’t find a job. In 2004, he was the leading candidate for openings at two state universities. Both rejected him.
At least three other secular schools plan new professorships in Mormon studies, but he appears to be a long shot for these posts, too – not because he lacks qualifications, but because almost all the funding for the jobs is coming from Mormon donors.
“At this point, I’m unhireable,” says the 62-year-old scholar, who lives with his mother to save money in this town east of Los Angeles.
Mr. Quinn’s struggles reflect the rising influence of religious groups over the teaching of their faiths at secular colleges, despite concerns about academic freedom. U.S. universities have usually hired religious-studies professors regardless of whether they practiced or admired the faiths they researched. But some universities are bending to the views of private donors and state legislators by hiring the faithful.
… “Every single department of religion is negotiating with religious communities in new ways,” says Laurie Patton, chairwoman of the religion department at Emory University, a private, secular school in Atlanta.
In other words, compromising their academic objectivity to appease religious zealots:
Harvard University’s divinity school is close to filling a professorship in evangelical theological studies funded by Alonzo L. McDonald, an evangelical Christian and former White House staff director who runs a Michigan investment group. Mr. McDonald says the scholar should be “understanding and empathetic” toward evangelical traditions. Harvard’s general counsel advised the school that it cannot legally ask job applicants about their religious beliefs. The 1964 Civil Rights Act bans religious discrimination in hiring at secular schools.
The school’s faculty recently recommended hiring a specialist in evangelical history whose work is unlikely to ruffle the faithful, say faculty members.
Welcome to the new McCarthyism.
The Journal has much more (2,500 words, to be precise) on Quinn’s persecution.
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