Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Religion is Like a Secret/Hidden Topic among Scientists in US elite universities! Are Indian universities too headed in same direction?

Last updated on October 18th 2013

I did a Google search on religion in elite US universities and came up with this interesting March 2011 article by E.H. Ecklund, Associate Professor of Sociology, Rice university: Religious Scientists: Faith in the American University, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elaine-howard-ecklund-phd/what-is-keeping-universit_b_839161.html. She (perhaps with some other colleagues) did a survey of "nearly 1,700 scientists at elite American universities".

Interesting points from it that tell the sorry state of affairs (from my religion-lover perspective):
  1. Many academic scientists told the author of the article that "religion has no place in the modern academy." [Based on response from "scientifically selected sample of 275" scientists at elite American universities.]
  2. The author writes that social scientists are more likely to favour religion being part of their discipline.
  3. Even though many academic scientists are religious and have an interest in spirituality they do not talk about it openly as they are scared that they will be discriminated against! 
  4. " ... because of their unwillingness to talk about their own views on religion and spirituality, scientists with faith could be partly to blame for uninformed conversations about religion and science on university campuses."
--- end points from article ---

Ravi: So the science (and technology & management) student does not typically get to hear any religion in university from his/her teachers during one of the most important formative periods of the student's near-adult/adult life! I would not be surprised if many science, technology and management graduates and higher academic degree holders produced by these institutions are agnostics even if their parents are of strong faith. [That is what happened to me - my parents certainly had faith in God. But lack of any mention of religion during five years of college (in Ruia college, Mumbai, ending with Physics graduation in 1983) put me on the firm track of agnosticism. Well, I was into Vedanta/Upanishadic philosophy & Gita philosophy but I did not have faith in a God who responds to prayer and so I was an agnostic. And all the Vedanta & Gita study was on my own initiative - not part of my college science curriculum. I needed life to hammer me down with severe challenges to see the light and turn decisively to the Hindu faith of my family of a God who responds to prayer and intervenes in human/worldly affairs! I tasted the succour and joy that comes from faith in such an interventionist God and that changed me from an agnostic to a happy and enthusiastic theist.]

Very unfortunately most Indian science, technology and management universities or associated departments of universities seem to be aping the US universities and falling into the same trap. The craze for world university rankings and country university rankings like NAAC perhaps makes them fall deeper into the religion-agnostic and God-agnostic trap of Western (and Chinese) higher education [If I recall correctly one of the two well known world university rankings is a Chinese based one - Shanghai based.] So Indian higher education systems may end up mostly producing agnostic or atheist scientists, technologists and management specialists, who are the elite who will be playing important roles in the vital material institutions of the country!

Going a little further, a very disturbing sort-of conclusion: The more educated a person is (in science, technology & management), the less is the possibility that he/she will believe in a God who responds to prayer and intervenes in human affairs. For belief in such an interventionist God you have to turn to the company of the less educated who may usually be following preachers/priests (or turn to the few humanities educated Professors/teachers/writers who speak up on religion)! [I am excluding centres of intense religious study, practice & experience like monasteries and ashrams as they are not easily accessible as compared to higher education universities] Hmm. Is that (having to turn to the company of less educated theists for faith due to a general lack of academics who speak up on religion) the reality of religion in higher education today? Very unfortunately, I think that is the reality of religion in higher education today. [Some large universities have a department of religion but I don't think the courses offered by the department may be taken by most science, technology and management students. Many medium and small universities may not even have a department of religion.]

P.S. Hope I am not coming too strong on the religion bit here :). But I seriously think that religion and God being absent from curricula of most science, technology & management universities or associated departments of universities all over the world is a bad thing for society in general. [Yes, a few aspects of religions are controversial - they can be left out. Most of the teachings of the world religions are excellent teachings to build communities on time-tested values like love, service of the needy, joy, peace, truth, forgiveness, gratitude to parents etc.] I think that situation (religion being absent from higher education curricula of ...) must be changed for the well being of society. How that can be achieved - I haven't got the faintest idea! I mean, the opposition to religion being taught & discussed openly in science, technology and management higher education is so deeply entrenched and dominant, in the West, China (I presume) and, unfortunately, even in India, that people seem afraid to speak up and argue for it.

The hope comes from the politicians as they control the public taxpayer money provided to educational institutions and also have an overview say in approving higher educational institutions. The politicians represent the people at large, many of whom, in India and I think even in the USA, thank God, are theists, and so the politicians (in India and USA) typically represent the theist interests.

To ensure no misunderstanding I would like to clarify that I am not talking about religion being enforced on anybody in universities using the help of politicians. I strongly support freedom of worship associated with any religion as well as freedom to not be associated with any religion. I am talking about getting help from politicians to ensure that education on religion (including the bad parts of it) and its co-existence with science is a part of science, technology and management higher education in some way, formal or informal. An atmosphere where science academics who are religious are scared to talk openly about their views on religion and science especially to students, as they fear discrimination, is not a good thing, in my humble opinion.

If nothing is done about these matters than we will continue to have, as Associate Prof. of Rice University, E.H. Ecklund puts it, "uninformed conversations about religion and science on university campuses". In my view, such uninformed conversations seem to be leading to some products of science departments of elite Western universities (which includes some Indians who come back to become academics in leading Indian science educational institutions), to continue to hold and even profess their uninformed views on religion and science to the world at large through mainstream newspaper articles! Such uninformed public articles will create confusion in the minds of the public who look up to academics as trusted sources of knowledge and may mislead some of the public! We need to instead have informed discussions on the co-existence of religion and science as they stand today, which are made available to the public through various channels like the media and the Internet.