The first secular studies department

The subject of secularization has generated much discussion among sociologists and others in recent years (see a recent example with thoughts from sociologist Mark Chaves regarding religion’s decline in America). Now there is news that the first secular studies department will begin in the next academic year:

Starting this fall, Pitzer College, a small liberal arts institution in Southern California, will inaugurate a department of secular studies. Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.”

The department was proposed by Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, who describes himself as “culturally Jewish, but agnostic-atheist on questions of deep mystery.” Over the years he grew increasingly intrigued by the growth of secularism in the United States and around the world. He studied and taught in Denmark, one of the world’s most secular countries, and has written several books about atheism.

While the field of sociology of religion has spent time in the last few decades discussing the resurgence of religion in the world, particularly the rise of American evangelicalism, perhaps this new major is illustrative of a reversal of study as atheism or non-religiousness (even though Americans who identify as this still may consider themselves “spiritual” or still partake in religious practices) gains attention.

It would be interesting to hear more about the internal discussions at Pitzer about why the study of secularism should have its own major rather than approaching the subject within several already established majors like sociology or religious studies.

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