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Religion and sociology experts to discuss role of faith on college campuses. Monday, September 17, 2007

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — 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.

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has recently released a new comprehensive online guide called The Religious Engagements of American Undergraduates. This guide is the product of a recent SSRC project on this topic launched with support from the Teagle Foundation. Vassar College has also been awarded a Teagle Foundation grant on "Secularity and the Liberal Arts." The award is enabling a consortium of campuses to explore whether and how secular assumptions frame the "big questions" students are asking in the classroom and beyond about what matters most to them.

Two panelists, Courtney Bender and Neil Gross, were contributors to the SSRC's Religious Engagements of American Undergraduates online guide. 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. Sam Speers, director of religious and spiritual Life at Vassar, is hosting the roundtable as part of Vassar's "Secularity and the Liberal Arts" grant from Teagle. Speers is also a contributor to SSRC's new online guide.

"In a time of renewed attention to campus religious life, there seems to be a kind of surprise that religion hasn't gone away," said Speers. "That's in large part what has motivated our interest in looking at both secularity and religion in higher education."

Speers added that he has enjoyed participating in the Teagle Foundation's working group on this topic. "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. 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."


The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) engages practitioners, policymakers, and academic researchers in all the social sciences and related professions, as well as in the humanities and natural sciences, on important public issues, with the goal of bringing necessary knowledge to public action. For more information, go to:

The rising prominence of religion in American public life and, more recently, the religious dimensions of war and terrorism have spurred a resurgence of interest in religion across a range of academic disciplines. But the shortage of specialists and weak connections between academic fields limits intellectual efforts to grapple with religion and the secular in international and public affairs. The SSRC is committed to carving out more space in the social sciences for the analysis of faith, religion, secularism, and related topics. For more information, go to:


The Teagle Foundation provides leadership for liberal education, marshaling the intellectual and financial resources necessary to ensure that today's students have access to challenging, wide-ranging, and enriching college educations. The Teagle Foundation believes that the benefits of such learning last for a lifetime and are best achieved when colleges develop broad and intellectually stimulating curricula, engage their students in active learning, explore questions of deep social and personal significance, set clear goals, and – crucially – systematically measure progress toward them. For more information, go to:


This project is a multi-institutional consortium funded by the Teagle Foundation. The collaborating institutions are developing campus leadership to contribute to emerging discussions about whether and how secularity is the enabling condition of the liberal arts, including whether the liberal arts needs a coherent definition of the secular. Joint initiatives include institutional research assessing what "big questions" students are asking, and, in the spring of 2008, a multi-campus public conference, "Varieties of Secular Experience: Pedagogy, Politics, and Meaning in the Liberal Arts" to be held at Vassar College. Participating institutions are Bucknell University, Macalester College, Vassar College, and Williams College. For more information, go to:

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, September 7, 2007