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Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Todd Drogy teaches English composition at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Science & Religion Today's Dan Messier recently spoke with him about his decision to shape his course syllabus around readings in religion and science.

SRT: Why did you decide to organize your course around science and religion?
TD: The debate on the proper place of religion in society is so intense, so fraught with opinion and bias and feeling, and, at the same time, so important. And the range of ideas about where and how and if religion should influence American society at large spans across and intersects so many pointed, worthwhile discussions. So, it seemed like the theme of religion and its place in present-day American society would be fertile ground for sustained textual inquiry. Also, I was attracted to this theme because I felt it was not heavy-handed; students could come from any background and have any number of convictions, and stand on equal ground in this wrestling match of ideas. And students could write with feeling, with conviction, with interest, while simultaneously being forced—by the very complexity of the subject—to question their assumptions and look deeper and more critically into the issue at hand.

SRT: What did you have your students read?
TD: The major readings of the course were Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard, The Language of God by Francis Collins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, and "A Fist in the Eye of God" by Barbara Kingsolver.

SRT: What's been the student reaction?
TD: The reaction has been varied. Many students were already well-positioned in one camp or another, either against the idea of organized religion or for it, either disturbed by the influence of religion in American society or wishing there was greater influence. But overall, there seemed to be interest and engagement with the fullness of the issue. I saw students leaving their ground, their place of safety, and venturing out to encounter complex, perhaps disturbing, ideas, even when those ideas challenged their preconceptions. And I saw students really willing to use writing as a tool of investigation and clarification of issues—religious, political, scientific issues—confronting American society. So I would say the reaction was encouraging. There was little boredom, and a lot of strong feelings, and interest. Which is a good place to begin writing from.

Want to help shape the future of this course?
Leave a comment or send Todd Drogy feedback, ideas, or answers to his questions:

TD: I used Francis Collins' book The Language of God to represent a compelling, well argued, thoughtful, and generous Christian point of view. Are there any other suggestions for texts I could use in the future that would fairly, meaningfully, present a serious perspective on the role of religion—its currency, its usefulness—in present day American culture?

Also, I'm interested in whether, from a Christian perspective, the idea of basing an English composition course around the idea of religion and its role in society seems meaningful, worthy, valid, and interesting?

Lastly, from a Christian perspective, what texts would you use, if you were designing a course such as mine, in order to represent a point of view in contrast to what is seen as the stereotypical Christian point of view on the proper role of religion in today's society?