Focus on faith – Academia’s new gospel

Long dismissed by scholarly researchers, religion and its impact on private lives and public culture is enjoying a renewed emphasis on campus, the Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 18.

“While millions, even billions, of people view so many different human concerns through the lens of religious faith, this crucial subject remains one of the most understudied social phenomena of the 20th century,” Princeton University President Harold Shapiro said last year.

But now more people than ever are studying religion, thanks to funding opportunities, a revival of spirituality throughout the U.S. and politicians’ approval of faith-based work, the Times said.

In Pennsylvania, for example, researchers are studying religion’s impact on keeping young people away from drugs and delinquency, while professors in Cambridge are exploring how faith motivates environmentalism and inner-city economic growth.

Research no longer is limited to schools of the divinity, but increasingly is the focus of work in departments of sociology, political science, international relations and even business, the Times said.

The new research should “significantly reshape the social sciences, Jon Miller, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California, told the Times.

And Donald E. Miller, executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, said, “We’ve started to legitimize the study of religion and help people acknowledge it’s a phenomenon that people need to pay attention to.”

Religion also has enjoyed a higher profile on the campaign trail, with Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush saying they favor government support for faith-based initiatives.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore’s vice presidential running mate, said this week that environmentalism is rooted in religion, The New York Times reported Oct. 19.

He cited the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, where “it said that God put Adam and Eve there to work the garden, but also to guard it.”

For full stories, go to Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

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