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 The Chronicle of Higher Education
College Students Should Know More About the Bible, English Professors Say in Survey 

By THOMAS BARTLETT
Friday, June 2, 2006

College students need to be more familiar with the Bible, according to a report based on a survey of 39 English professors from different types of institutions across the country.

The report was supported by the John Templeton Foundation, whose stated mission is to "pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science." The survey was conducted by the Bible Literacy Project, which argues that the Bible should be studied in public schools.

Eighteen of the English professors surveyed said students know less about the Bible now than when the professors began teaching. All but one of the professors said knowledge of the Bible was important for students in their classes.

Some biblical knowledge is "absolutely requisite," according to Ernest B. Gilman, a professor of English at New York University. He said some freshmen are surprised that passages from the Bible are on the syllabus when they come to college.

Mr. Gilman thinks the Bible should be taught in schools. "If it's OK in colleges, then why isn't it OK in high schools?" he asked.

But Mr. Gilman said he was concerned that the results of the study could be used to support the views of people who want the Bible read as a devotional text in public schools. "I would be horrified if it became a way of smuggling one flavor of Christianity into the classroom," Mr. Gilman said.

Likewise, Kevin Dunn, a professor of English and an academic dean at Tufts University, was a "little leery" about participating in the survey. "I wanted to make sure I wasn't being used," he said.

Mr. Dunn teaches a course on the Bible as literature but steers clear of using it for any spiritual purpose in class. "I would say that knowledge of all religious texts is crucial," Mr. Dunn said. The founder of the Bible Literacy Project, Chuck Stetson, said the purpose of his organization and the new report has to do with education, not religion. Mr. Stetson, a venture capitalist, believes that fear of violating laws regarding the separation of church and state has led public schools to delete the Bible from the curriculum. And that, he argues, is a mistake.

"You can teach the Bhagavad-Gita all day long. You can teach the Koran all day long. But as soon as it comes to the Bible, people say 'separation of church and state,'" Mr. Stetson said.

Mr. Stetson said he was not in favor of teaching the Bible for devotional purposes in public schools. "Knowledge belongs in the schools," he said. "Belief belongs in the houses of worship."

©2006 The Chronicle of Higher Education
 

 
 

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