Harvard’s Religion Problem

In Pinker’s view, human progress is an evolution away from superstition, witchcraft, and idol worship—that is, religion—and toward something like a Scandinavian austerity and secularism.

“I very, very, very much do not want to go on the record as suggesting that people should not know about religion,” he told me. “But reason and faith are not yin and yang. Faith is a phenomenon. Reason is what the university should be in the business of fostering.”

A university education is our greatest weapon in the battle against our natural stupidity, he said in a recent speech. “We don’t kill virgins on an altar, because we know that it would not, in fact, propitiate an angry god and alleviate misfortune on earth.”

~Steven Pinker, a Harvard University Professor of Evolutionary Psychology

All quotes were taken from a Newsweek Article, entitled “Harvard’s Crisis of Faith”

Background: In 2006, a few faculty members tried to get a requirement for students to take a class in an umbrella group called “Faith and Reason” There would have been religion classes, but also others as well. Yet Steven Pinker lead the charge to shoot down the proposal.

Currently Harvard has no professors who teach solely religion classes, in a solely religion department.  There are classes that study religion, but are taught by Anthropology professors or other departments. As a result the classes are listed in different places in the catalog. Students who express interest in religion are pointed in the direction of the Divinity School.

It irked me to read that this professor equated religion with superstition and sacrifices. It’s like he grouped everything associated with religion – the good, the bad and the in-between – and dismissed religion because of the bad. Like throwing the baby out with the stale bath water…

Personally, I disagree with Pinker’s generalizations (that’s what I’m calling his logic!)  I know we can study religion academically, I’ve done it twice and once was with my own religion.  I would recommend it to students, but I know just recommendations aren’t going to get the kids into the classrooms. Harvard really should require its students take some sort of class that would satisfy the faith and reason category.


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