On Penn State’s main webpage, President Eric Barron posted a wonderful note titled “No place for hate at Penn State.” He went on to highlight the critical issues of race, ethnicity, religion, intolerance, hate and discrimination. There is little doubt that Barron wants Penn State to be an “open and welcoming environment for students, faculty and staff from all walks of life.” I quite agree.
Given the above, it is so very sad that a short while ago Penn State eliminated the religious studies program and major. Penn State had a long history of successful and well-enrolled religious studies courses, dating back to its status as a “department” with more than a dozen faculty members, founded by Luther H. Harshbarger in the mid-1960s. It even offered a Ph.D. focusing on religion in America … one of the very first Ph.D. programs — if not the first — on that topic offered at an American university. Now all that exists is a religious studies minor.
At a time when religious studies departments are flourishing throughout North America, it is very hard to understand and accept Penn State’s move in the opposite direction. As an emeritus faculty member from that first religious studies department, I remain disappointed that Penn State has not heeded Barron’s concern ... at least with respect to religious studies.
Charles S. Prebish,
The writer is professor emeritus of religious studies at Penn State and the Charles Redd Endowed Chair in Religious Studies Emeritus at Utah State University.