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Headline Opinions — 17 February 2012

By Kathleen Tierney

I’ve been exposed to the study of religion my entire life. I went to a Catholic elementary school, briefly touched on Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism in high school, and was exposed to courses titled Western Religions and Eastern Religions in college. One thing I have never learned about, however, is secularism.

Let me start out by saying that by no means am I suggesting colleges across the country start teaching all their students to be atheists. I do believe, however, that students should be allowed to learn about the culture, politics, history, and movement of this non-belief.

Non-religious belief has been a growing movement throughout the world. In a 2005 study, thirty-three percent of the French population said they did not believe in God, while forty percent of people in the United Kingdom said the same thing. These numbers did not include people who define themselves as agnostic. In Uruguay, thirty percent of the population considers themselves to be either atheist or agnostic. My point is that just because secularism has relatively low numbers in the United States doesn’t mean that it isn’t expanding elsewhere.

There is one (yes, only one) college in the United States that offers a degree in secular studies. This 2011-2012 school year is the first year the degree is being offered. To me, this raises several questions. Why has it taken so long to accept secularism as a study? Is it because we afraid to educate our students on a non-believing culture?

Ideally, a secular studies program would consist of taking courses that include science, philosophy, sociology, and political science. It would focus on the reasoning and logic secularists hold, how secular societies are different from our own, and the history of the movement. Offering the study as a major might be a stretch right now, but adding a minor, concentration, or simply secular courses would be a place to start.

A study done by the University of Oregon and the University of British Columbia last year showed that atheists are distrusted by some as much as rapists are in the United States and Canada, since most are believed to have no moral code. If we took the time to educate students on the culture and reasonings of secularists, this prejudice might finally start to diminish.

Education is one of the most important tools we can use to shape our society. Just because schools offer classes, concentrations, minors, full programs or what-have-you in secular studies does not mean that we are educating our young adults to become atheists any more than religious studies students are being educated to believe in Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammed.

Photo Credit: Csymp002 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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