Letters to the Editor

Promote religion in college? No

California State University, Stanislaus, President Hamid Shirvani's column "Re-examining the place of religion on college campuses" (Sept. 20, Page B-7), while probably born of good intentions, misrepresents the purpose of public university education.

A public university's mission is academic; it is to advance and disseminate knowledge, not belief. Our society provides other avenues for exploring one's spirituality.

This is not to say that religion has no place in a public university. The academic study of religion, which is about analysis rather than advocacy, is common on public campuses and entirely consistent with the First Amendment.

As Boston University religion Professor Stephen Prothero, soon to speak in our area, explains in his book "Religious Literacy," universities can in this way counteract the astounding and ironic lack of basic religious knowledge -- the religious illiteracy -- in our highly religious nation.

But Shirvani's vision would put the university on very different, more constitutionally dubious ground.

Shirvani has a right to voice his views. But his writing in a public forum as a public university educator, particularly following a campus flap about the appropriateness of allowing an evangelical revival in the campus amphitheater, raises concerns that his words will be -- perhaps already have been -- translated into troubling actions.

BRET CARROLL

Modesto

Editor's note: Professor Stephen Prothero, author of "Religious Literacy," will speak Oct. 6 at Central Valley High School, Central Avenue and Service Road, Ceres. An 11 a.m. presentation led by Carroll, a professor at Stanislaus State, is part of The Bee's Book Club (free reservations at 578-2177). At 2 p.m., he will offer the American Heritage Scholarship Series lecture; it, too, is free, with no reservations required.

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