I was a high school english teacher in a suburban high school, and I am currently teaching philosophy at a community college in New Jersey. At various moments throughout my career I have encountered students who resist discussions about faith and religious experience. The reason for this, I have observed, is the role of religious indoctrination in their family life and the powerful influence of their religious institutions. While I have never discounted the importance of faith and religious experience as being important and relevant to help one with identity formation and the interpretation of suffering in the world, some students who are defensive about their faith were unable to see the value of discussing the nature of religious experience. In this respect, their faith often prevented them from understanding what religious devotion is and how to talk about it openly.

The role of the humanities involves asking difficult questions about religion, and it is unfortunate that religious fundamentalism across the spectrum of different faiths often undermines a students’ ability to think deeply about the origins of their motivating influences. For this reason, it is even more critical that we support the humanities to encourage students to think beyond their narrow influences, and to understand that questioning religious belief does not mean abandoning it.

– John Cleary (Associate Professor of Philosophy)