During the last century American students and scholars have found it increasingly difficult to discuss the relation of religion to the mission of self-consciously secular colleges and universities. C. John Sommerville here sorts through a number of issues that bring these matters into sharper focus.
The aim of secular education as it began in the nineteenth century, Sommerville points out, was to open debate to all ideas that could win a hearing, not simply to stifle all those that could be labeled religious. In the aftermath of the failing ideologies of the nineteenth century new ideas, new icons, and new taboos are forming, circulating without critical scrutiny. Today the secular university finds itself in crisis, unable to define the human difference.
Sommerville considers such matters as how we judge religions, how corporatization is the inevitable result of secularization, and how scholars are rediscovering the human difference. He uses narrative theory and new understandings of canon formation to illuminate religious texts and explores Christianity's appearance on both sides of the culture war. The reflections in Religious Ideas for Secular Universities show how a dialogue might be promoted that would do justice both to religious insights and to the neutrality that is the goal of true secularization.