All Posts Tagged With: "religion"
What students are talking about today (March 22nd)
1. Chris Bangs, front-runner for president of the Students’ Society of McGill University, has been accused by student journalist Ameya Pendse of the Bull & Bear newspaper of refusing to answer questions about about the time he allegedly forced his way into a lecture banging on drums and shouting slogans at those who went to classes during the so-called student strike. The incident was caught on video. Pendse says he posted this query twice on Bangs’ Facebook page: “When you decided to go into that room and disrupt the class, after the strike failed, do you think that you went against a student’s individual choice and right to go to class? Don’t you feel like you disrespected the students’ choice and opinion concerning the strike?” It’s not exactly as balanced question, but it’s one that Bangs apparently deleted twice. In a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” question and answer session, he again dodged it. He also failed to give a comment to The Political Bouillon student journal. Why no answer?
2. Also at McGill, a student writing in the online magazine Leacocks says that, looking back, she shouldn’t have complained about her residence room in Montreal or the unimpressive flat she rented on exchange in Ireland. “What I’ve failed to appreciate is that even living in a flat on a street where every sidewalk slab boasts the blot of an ostensible Rorschach test from the stains of dried urine, I didn’t live on those streets. I lived in an apartment—a secure, cockroach-free one at that, with a kindly landlord, and situated in a cool foreign locale where I’d jetted for the year to study (kick around, travel, get into dark beer, etc, etc). And my parents paid the rent,” writes Kristen Pye. I’m not sure if we should love her or hate her for only realizing this now, but she certainly has a point.
‘Islam or Atheism?’ debate in London ends in uproar
At a University College London debate called “Islam or Atheism: What Makes More Sense?,” the events’ hosts segregated women, men and couples this weekend to please conservative Muslims, reports The Guardian. After three people were told to vacate their seats for not following the gendered seating plan, professor Lawrence Krauss, one of two men debating, threatened to leave. Organizers from the Islamic Education and Research Academy relented, but an uproar ensued after the world’s most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, asked on Twitter, “who the hell do these Muslims think they are?” Dawkins was called racist. UCL says it will investigate. Here are Dawkins’ Tweets.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 10, 2013
Who the hell do these Muslims think they are? At UCL of all places, tried to segregate the sexes in debate between @lkrauss1 and a Muslim
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 10, 2013
Decent, nice, liberal people must stop being so terrified of being thought “Islamophobic” and stand up for decent, nice, liberal values. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 10, 2013
I don’t think Muslims should segregate sexes at University College London events. Oh NO, how very ISLAMOPHOBIC of me. How RACIST of me. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 10, 2013
What students are talking about today (January 30th)
1. Almost a year after the start of anti-tuition marches that shut down many Quebec university programs and later toppled the Jean Charest government, the new Parti Quebecois government says zero tuition is not currently feasible, surely disappointing many of the activists who got the PQ elected. Meanwhile, François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, is trying to make the anti-tuition supporters heads explode by proposing a two-tier system of tuition in which the provinces “top four” universities—Montreal, McGill, Laval and Sherbrooke—would set their own tuition fees, while the remaining 14 would become much more affordable teaching-focused universities. The idea of two-tier education with research and teaching universities isn’t new and it isn’t very popular in Canada, but there’s a reason it never goes away—it could potentially work. Read more on Legault’s plan here.
Most-liked video ever, Waterloo sex crime & Montreal pride
1. I didn’t want to bore you with another story about Gangnam Style so consider this a YouTube story. Psy’s music video with his horse-man dance moves is now YouTube’s most liked video of all time with 2.2 million thumbs up, way more than LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem, which slips to second. Don’t get too excited. Everyone knows the more important record is total views. At 200 million, Gangnam Style has a long way to go to reach Justin Bieber’s Baby with 780 million views.
2. In a bizarre twist, Waterloo Regional Police say that a sexual assault alleged to have occurred on Monday did not actually happen. “It has been determined that the female’s initial allegations to police were not true,” they wrote in a release.
3. That’s great news, especially considering how such disturbing news could have detracted from today’s celebration. Prof. Stephen Hawking, physics superstar, is in Waterloo today to help open the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre, a $160-million facility that will allow for atomic-scale experiments. It’s named for a donation from the Research in Motion (RIM) co-founder.
Prof. Pettigrew on why he was wrong
Religion is a sensitive topic for many, so discussion of it in the university classroom can be difficult. In my case, religion often comes up in literature classes and I do my best to not impose too much of my own views, lest the discussion turn too much to the religious questions per se and not enough on the literary questions. As I point out to my students, it doesn’t matter what you believe about God, but it does matter what Milton thought about God—at least when you’re reading Milton.
When your class material is religion itself though, things must become muddier. And I’ve heard many stories from colleagues over the years about awkward moments when religious students vigorously advanced their views against evolution or the Big Bang or could not be persuaded to entertain different point of view because “that’s just not what I believe.”
Doesn’t he remember SlutWalk?
Following a string of sexual assaults on female students in Toronto, a street preacher told The Toronto Sun that be believes the attacks happened because Canadian laws “give too much freedom to women.” Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana is a 33-year-old Islamic convert connected to the Muslim Support Network. He can often be heard preaching at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square.
Atangana, who is planning to hand out literature on the topic, wrote to The Sun asserting that women get raped because of the way they dress. He also proposes Toronto become “the first city in North America to introduce laws that would make it illegal for women to dress provocatively.”
Sound familiar? It should. It’s a more extreme version of what Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti told an audience at York University last January—that women shouldn’t dress like “sluts” if they don’t want to be victimized. Atangana remembers. He praised the officer in his e-mail.
But apparently he doesn’t remember how it ended—with the public shaming of Sanguinetti and the global SlutWalk movement. Women and their supporters marched in provocative clothes to assert their right to dress however they wish without fear of being sexually assaulted. The marches hit a collective nerve, spreading from Toronto to faraway places like London and New Delhi.
With people like Atangana out there, it’s clear SlutWalk’s work isn’t over yet. I hope he’s prepared for feminists in short-shorts. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t see a few more of them in the future.
Students at the University of Toronto have set a goal of raising $70,000 by September to fund a year-long contract for the first-ever full-time Muslim chaplain on a Canadian campus.
In a slick video on the campaign website various young people make the case for donations. “I had to sit in class and listen to my professor tell me Islam degrades women,” says one young woman. “In my field, relationships are built at the bar. What am I supposed to do about that?,” says a young man. “There’s something about mosques that makes me uncomfortable,” says another man.
Muslim Chaplains provide spiritual guidance at dozens of universities in the United States. Unlike Imams, chaplains may be women. The chaplain’s role includes spiritual guidance for students and interfaith work too.
Conference featured controversial speaker
Republished from Michael Petrou’s The World Desk blog on Macleans.ca
Carleton University in Ottawa last weekend hosted a pro-Islamic Republic of Iran propaganda event sponsored in part by the Iranian embassy.
The conference, “The Contemporary Awakening and Imam Khomeini’s Thoughts,” was held to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the death of the Islamic Republic’s founding dictator, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It was presented by the Cultural Centre of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is run out of Iran’s embassy on Metcalfe Street, and the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University. Iranian students at Carleton in the past have contacted me to complain about attempts by the Iranian embassy to influence their student group at the university.
The conference featured a talk by Moulana Sayyid Muhhamad Rizvi, the “Guidance Alim” of a Toronto Islamic school whose teaching materials—some of which which were written in Iran or by a foundation believed by the FBI to be controlled by the Iranian government—refer to “crafty” and “treacherous” Jews. Continue reading Carleton hosts event honouring Ayatollah Khomeini
Policy effectively bars GLBTQ staff
Seth Crowell, vice-president of Crandall University, told CBC News that the Moncton, N.B. institution has the right to effectively bar GLBTQ people from working there despite public funding.
Crandall, a Christian university, has a “Moral Code” that requires staff to be “be sexually pure, reserving sexual intimacy for within a traditional marriage between one man and one woman.”
Crowell told CBC that a 1983 act of the legislature gave what was then Atlantic Baptist College the right to grant degrees with “a viewpoint that is Christian.” Since 1996, Crandall has received about $24 million in funding from all levels of government, according to Global News.
Let the kid wear his offensive Jesus shirt: Pettigrew
This week, Nova Scotia student William Swinimer was suspended from his high school in the town of Chester Basin for wearing a t-shirt that read, “Life is WASTED without Jesus.” While school officials say the shirt is inappropriate, Swinimer says he is merely standing up for his religious beliefs and exercising free expression.
School board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake says the board is going to hire an expert to mediate the dispute.
Since I am already in Nova Scotia and am always right about everything, let me save the good people of Canada’s Ocean Playground some money by explaining what that exquisitely-named functionary should do.
Let the kid wear his shirt.
Some people in B.C. have their panties in a twist
I would guess that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims, thoughtful, tolerant, law-abiding citizens, must really hate it when their fellow Muslims go crazy over the barest of perceived slights.
If my guess is right, there must be a lot of sighing going after news broke yesterday that a brou-ha-ha had erupted at Thompson Rivers University over a photo of a woman wearing a niqab and abaya (garments sometimes worn by some Muslim women that cover almost the entire body) while looking at a bra.
“I thought he was joking,” says student
A student at Brigham Young University’s Idaho campus was turned away from her final exam in December for wearing form-fitting “skinny jeans,” reports The Student Review campus newspaper.
Rachel Vermillion, a senior, thought the invigilator was joking when he first told her she couldn’t write the test because her pants were too tight.
But he was serious. He pointed to a sign that read NO SKINNY JEANS. The sign elaborated: “If your pants are tight enough for us to see the shape of your leg, your pants are too tight.”
A simple solution for the Christmas controversy blues
Last year around this time I was startled to notice a small nativity scene set up in our university cafeteria. I considered making a formal complaint to the effect that at a public university such overtly religious symbols should be avoided. But it was only a little one, and even my great and growing peevishness has its limits.
Still, it’s easy to see why Christmas poses such a problem for educational institutions. On one hand, it is a venerable annual tradition for millions, with a seemingly endless store of symbols and songs to draw upon. On the other hand, for many, it is among the holiest days of the year, and one still hears a phrase like “the true meaning of Christmas” where “true meaning” is meant to suggest the religious meaning.
And so it is no surprise that controversy and indignation has become one of our new favourite holiday traditions.
Would that stop hate or stifle free speech?
Jewish organizations are calling on the University of Toronto to cancel an 18-week seminar series led by Toronto-based Islamic scholar Abdullah Hakim Quick. They say Quick has made homophobic and antisemitic comments in the past and should not be allowed to speak on campus.
“The unfortunate truth is that when you have speakers like this, that are divisive, it hurts communities,” says Avi Benlolo, President of the FSWC. “We hope that the unviersity will make the right decision to cancel it or put it on hold pending review,” he adds.
U of T spokesperson April Kemick told CJN that the “event is a booking by a campus group—one of hundreds that happen over the course of the year—and there is no connection to the university.”
A student makes Jews look bad. But that’s a good thing.
By Emma Teitel. Republished from Macleans.ca.
There’s an inside Yiddish expression used by Jews to describe other Jews behaving badly in the public sphere: “shanda for the goyim” — shanda meaning “shame” and goyim denoting “gentiles” (non-Jews). The phrase is most commonly employed by Semitic seniors, when the modern media informs them that Jews can in fact be lechers (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), alcoholics (Amy Winehouse); unsuspecting nudes (Scarlett Johansson); and now, thanks to one 22-year-old Toronto Jewish girl, dangerously obtuse.
The woman in question—with whom I share at least one mutual Facebook friend (I am also a 22-year-old Jewish girl and it’s very possible we crossed paths, maybe at B’nai Brith summer camp, or perhaps in the annual United Synagogue Youth Limousine Sukka Hop)—is a York University senior named Sarah Grunfeld, who last week made shanda-esque headlines when she put her social science professor’s career in jeopardy over an anti-Semitic remark that turned out to be—well—not. The statement “All Jews should be sterilized,” Professor Cameron Johnston explained in the introductory lecture to his class, was an example of an invalid and dangerous opinion; his point was that in academia especially, opinions must be reasonably qualified. Grunfeld failed to catch that qualifier, though, perhaps because before the prof had a chance to offer it, she had stormed out of class and enlisted the on-campus Israel-advocacy group, Hasbara (Hebrew for “Explanation”), to call for his immediate resignation.
Word of Johnston’s so-called racism exploded virally online by way of what National Post columnist Jonathan Kay has dubbed the “Bubbie-net” (Jewish grandparents frantically emailing their kin with fresh findings of alleged anti-Semitism); at the same time widely-respected Canadian Jewish civil rights association, B’nai Brith (Children of the Covenant), leaped in with equal gusto to champion Grunfeld’s claim. Then came the big reveal: Ms. Grunfeld had made a mistake. Not only was professor Johnston not an anti-Semite, he was a Jew. To borrow a more accessible Yiddish phrase, political correctness at York University had effectively schtupped itself. Not to mention Sarah Grunfeld.
The maligned university student has since “qualified” her accusations against Johnston with claims twice as ludicrous as the original. “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’,” she told the Toronto Star recently, “still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”
A lot of Canadian Jews are embarrassed and ashamed by this kind of doublespeak, and so was I, until I re-examined the root of my disquiet. There’s a reason why this particular shanda—and not, let’s say, Woody Allen’s marriage to his adopted daughter, or Garth Drabinsky’s defrauding of his shareholders, or The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart’s changing his name from John Stewart Liebowitz—ignites such fierce indignation in the Jewish community: Because Grunfeld doesn’t simply make us look bad (like the guys above); she makes us look stupid, and in doing so debunks the cultural stereotypes of intellectual superiority that we sometimes not-so-secretly enjoy.
Jewish American author Michael Chabon explored the seductiveness of this stereotype to Jews themselves in the New York Times last year in considering the calibre of the discussion following Israel’s botched raid of the Gaza bound Turkish flotilla, Mavi Marmara, in which nine activists died at the hands of Jewish soldiers (a debacle Diaspora Jews had trouble reconciling with our supposed “cultural” cleverness):
“I would look around the Passover table, say, at the members of my family, and remark on the presence of a number of highly intelligent, quick-witted, shrewd, well-educated people filled to bursting with information, explanations and opinions on a diverse range of topics. In my tractable and vainglorious eagerness to confirm the People of Einstein theory, my gaze would skip right over—God love them—any counterexamples present at that year’s Seder.”
Sarah Grunfeld—God love her—is one such counterexample. But we’d be wrong to let our gaze skip right over her, because there’s another, more disturbing lesson to be drawn from the Grunfeld affair and it’s this: as Jews, we hold the moral high ground to call out anti-Semitism. That’s why, in part, Grunfeld’s accusation had the legs it did, and why, perhaps, it got the backing from the Jewish infrastructure organizations such as B’nai Brith, which still hasn’t distanced itself from Grunfeld or denounced her fallacious claim, but has instead published her unapologetic letter blasting Professor Johnston for a sin he didn’t commit, with a logic even more addled than before. And there lies the biggest shanda of all: Grunfeld’s false allegations and the group’s uninformed decision to support her are bad mistakes, but both parties’ inability to own up to those mistakes renders them inexcusable. Because when we cry wolf —especially on one of our own—serious apologies are in order.
But it’s doubtful that apologies of any kind will be made, and B’nai Brith will continue sniffing out anti-Semitism where there may not be any, all the while undermining cases where there is. If anything good does come from this debacle, however, it’s that our enemies and unsolicited friends (Glenn Beck comes to mind) may think twice before attributing all things grave and glorious to the “People of Einstein.” Because if public representatives of the Jewish faith continue to make exceedingly stupid mistakes, then the various calumnies the conspiracy theorists like to heap on all of us—the blood libel, the plague, AIDS, the Iraq War, and our obvious plans to take over everything from Saturday night TV to the World Bank—start to ring kind of hollow. After all, with Sarah Grunfeld leading the way, for what exactly can they blame us?
Keep the natural selection haters off campus
Many years ago, a colleague of mine showed me his Darwin Fish, a little plastic fish made to look like the Jesus Fish stick-ons that were popular at the time among Christians. Remember when Puddy had one on Seinfeld? Except that the Darwin Fish says DARWIN instead of JESUS and, wait for it, has little feet on it. Get it? The fish is evolving? Anyway, I thought it was hilarious and a few months later, he gave me one as a gift. It is in my office to this day, on top of my thermostat.
These kinds of things fade into the background, so I don’t think about my Darwin Fish on a day-to-day basis, but it came to mind today, when I read this story. It seems that a couple of biology profs at a university in Florida had their cars vandalized because they had Darwin Fish on them. The vandals tore off the Darwin Fish, scraped off pro-evolution bumper stickers, and put nails in the tires. To make sure that the message got through, they left religious messages in the form of letters for good measure.
Now, I am not so naive as to imagine that everyone accepts the basic scientific facts of biology, nor do I imagine that universities are bastions of enlightenment where things like this can’t happen. But at the same time, it would be naive to dismiss such acts as petty pranks.
For one thing, it’s a hate crime. Imagine if Muslim symbols were torn off a vandalized car and you’ll see my point. For another, the vandals targeted professors, presumably imagining that somehow the profs might see the light and give up teaching evolution — which, as you can imagine they are not.
But any action, however small, that is deliberately designed to intimidate an academic into changing his position cannot be taken lightly. So far, these two professors don’t seem cowed, but what about the next brilliant young biologist who is offered a position at the University of Florida and thinks to do a Google search? Perhaps she thinks twice about taking that job, and they hire someone less talented. And little by little, the Floridian students of the future are deprived of the education they might have received.
Meanwhile, I’m looking for a more prominent place to display my own Darwin Fish.
Actually, it’s the same old Campus Crusade for Christ
Campus Crusade for Christ, an international evangelical student ministry with 25,000 members, is changing its name. As of 2012, it will be called Cru, which is presumably short for Crusade.
“We believe this new name will position us to connect better with the next generation,” Vonette Bright, who co-founded Campus Crusade for Christ with her husband in 1951, explained in a press release. “We want to remove any obstacle to people hearing about the most important person who ever lived – Jesus Christ.”
In Canada, Campus Crusade for Christ recently dropped the word “crusade” from it’s name, calling itself “Campus for Christ” instead.
There are chapters at 29 Canadian schools. On the ministry’s website it warns members that, “[in Canada] the terms ‘born-again’ and ‘evangelical’ tend to carry negative weight.”
Some students oppose $5-million gift to university
Concordia University made it official Wednesday that it will house the Azrieli Instiute of Israel Studies on campus.
The ethnically-diverse Montreal school has often been a flash-point between pro-Jewish and pro-Palestinian students. That makes it unsurprising that some students are opposed to the $5-million gift to start the school, which was donated by developer David Azrieli.
Self-described social justice advocate Rushdia Mehreen wrote an opinion piece for campus newspaper The Link in which she opposed the institute on the grounds that it “effectively strengthens links between the university and Israel, a state in constant breach of international law.” She noted that Professor Eric Shragge, from the school of community and public affairs, plus the feminism- and social justice-focused Simone de Beauvoir Institute also oppose the institute.
But one of the institute’s founders says that the institute “is not about the politics.” Instead, co-director and religious studies professor Norma Joseph told the Montreal Gazette that ”it’s about the study of a geographic area — its culture, its history, its economics, its diversity, even its food.”
She added that she believes institute will bring together Jewish and Muslim students, possibly preventing conflicts like the 2002 riots that caused the cancellation of a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Understanding eliminates conflict,” says Joseph.
Lex Gill, president of the Concordia Student Union, told The Gazette that the institute’s creation is supported by faculty and students alike.
The new institute comes the same week that Yale University has announced it will create a new Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.
That announcement followed criticism of Yale’s decision to close the Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) — a move that many supporters attributed to pressure from anti-Israeli groups, such as Palestinian Liberation Organization ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, who called the YIISA’s scholars “anti-Arab extremists.”
The Azrieli Instiute of Israel Studies will be the third such project Canada. There are Israeli Studies institutes at the University of Toronto and at The University of Calgary.
There’s nothing wrong with teaching basic facts about diversity to children
The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on Wednesday about whether the parents of school children in Quebec should have the right to pull their kids out of mandatory classes, if they disagree with the content.
At issue is the province’s “Ethics and Religious Culture” course, which is taught at both the elementary and secondary levels. The course is intended to help children “develop an awareness” of the growing diversity in Quebec society.
According to the course curriculum, “students will be encouraged to engage in critical reflection on ethical questions and to understand the phenomenon of religion by practising, in a spirit of openness, dialogue that is oriented toward contributing to community life.”
But some parents don’t like it.
One Catholic couple, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, sued to have their children exempted from the class. The Quebec Superior Court rejected their arguments and the Court of Appeals dismissed their appeal of that decision. They’re now challenging the Court of Appeals’ decision at the Supreme Court.
According to the Supreme Court’s case summary, the parents have a problem with the course because of the “disruption caused by forced, premature contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family, as well as the adverse effect on the religious faith of the members of this family.”
Yes, that’s right, these parents don’t want their children to know that some members of our society have different beliefs than they do.
But most Quebecers no longer live in parochial ghettos, most likely the children in question have already encountered children from different backgrounds, who are being raised in different religious traditions, either in the classroom or on the playground.
There’s no problem with parents teaching their children their religious views. There’s also nothing stopping religious schools from teaching explicitly faith-based classes.
But at the same time, I see no problem with the state insisting that schools teach that most basic of Canadian values: that in our society all of us are considered equal.
As Supreme Court Justice Louis LeBel put it, “Is there anything wrong with trying to teach open mindedness to students, to make that a behaviour or an attitude?
In Canada, there shouldn’t be.
The parents’ lawyers have claimed that the course will destroy pluralism in Quebec. I’m not quite sure how teaching children that pluralism exists in a diverse society will lead to that outcome.
Part of the problem is that there seems to be a lot of misinformation going around about what the course actually teaches and some of it seems to be rather deliberate.
National Post columnist, Barbara Kay claims that children will be taught that “that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoil-hat science fiction are equally true and equally conducive to a life of morality and spiritual vigour.”
But that’s not what the curriculum says. In fact, the course gives prominence to Christian traditions because of the “historical and cultural importance of Catholicism and Protestantism.” It also focuses on Judaism and Aboriginal spiritual traditions because of their long histories in Quebec. The only other religions mentioned by uname in the curriculum are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity, though there is some time set aside for “other religions” and “other forms of expression.”
What worries me most is the precedent that a victory by these parents could set. What comes next? Will parents be able to pull their children out of science classes because they don’t want them exposed to the theory of evolution? What if a parent doesn’t like what’s taught in a history class?
Canada is a diverse society and there’s nothing wrong with teaching basic facts about the people who live in this country to children.
Higher education should undermine religious belief.
Conor Friedersdorf, over at The Atlantic, takes on Dennis Prager and the question of why students tend to become less religious as a result of university education. Friedersdorf rejects Prager’s suggestion that universities have some kind of coordinated secularist agenda. Instead, he suggests that it is mainly a matter of young people being away from home for the first time. Students, he writes,
leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don’t go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they’re surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all. For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs. [...] If high school graduates moved away from home to work in a restaurant or open a muffler repair shop or serve coffee in a Starbucks rather than to attend college, young people would still be falling away from religion – and many others would never take it up in the first place.
There may be something to this, but, to my mind, Fridersdorf misses the main point. Unless they cocoon themselves in a university where everyone is religious, students at a university are bound to have their religious faith challenged because of the nature of the university experience.
That meeting people of other faiths or no faith at all may lead students to question their own faith seems right, but not, I would say, for the reason that Friedersdorf thinks. To my mind, the issue is not that one no longer attends the Sunday social but that the presence of other religions has the effect of showing that one’s own faith is by no means obvious. Further, the presence of so many faiths and so many ardent adherents poses an embarrassing problem for religion in general, a problem pointed out by Bertrand Russell: people tend to adopt the religion most common in the culture or subculture in which they were raised. Only zealots can observe that people from various countries tend to subscribe to the religion of that country and observe that they themselves have the religion of their own country and still be absolutely confident that theirs is the one true faith.
But the most important factor, missed entirely by Friedersdorf, is that university education, when done well, emphasizes critical and skeptical thinking. Of course there cannot be some massive conspiracy of professors to secularize their students, but when one is repeatedly reminded that claims require evidence, that the most interesting arguments are often the most surprising, and that most of the important things we take as simply true are often a matter of energetic debate, it becomes harder and harder to accept religion, at least in its more simplistic forms. Religious claims, one comes to see, are typically way out of proportion to the evidence given to support them. Similarly, where one has always been taught that there must be a God, and that there is no way to make sense of the world without that idea, it’s eye-opening to see that there are plenty of good reasons to think there cannot possibly be a God and that life and happiness can still be understood in His absence.
In this sense, universities do have a secularist agenda. By this I don’t mean that religion is deliberately attacked by a concerted effort — after all even public secular universities teach religious studies. But religion has always done best in places and times when ignorance was encouraged if not enforced, because religious leaders have known from the beginning that too much knowledge and debate lead to dissent. And dissent is anathema to dogma.