To the Editor:


I read with great interest last week’s article regarding the potential of a course exploring atheism (“Exploring the Alternative: Atheism at a Catholic University”).

I agree with my colleagues and students who feel that such a course is indeed appropriate at any university, including ours, which seeks to foster the free exchange of ideas.

In fact, I will be proposing such a course in the coming year, and in what I would consider its obvious and natural home: the Department of History.

Secularism is clearly a tradition within the field of intellectual history, and the European context which informs many aspects of our core curriculum is particularly rich in challenges to theism from various quarters.

This topic is an important one in European, American, and indeed World history.

I will therefore be at work this spring and next fall to submit as a formal proposal a course with the working title: “Godless: Atheism and Skeptical Thought in the West.”

To my colleagues: look for it at a curriculum committee meeting near you!

To students: come one, come all! And remember, you need not be an atheist to study atheism, any more than you need to be a Catholic to study the history of the Church.


Looking forward to engaging in this interesting discussion,




Patricia Behre, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of History

To the Editor:


In response to Martin O’Sullivan’s article on atheism:

While there is no course titled “Atheism” in the Department of Religious Studies now, let me clarify that there is no policy against such a course.

As is true of other academic departments, RS has a faculty, each of whom is hired to fill out our offerings in the field of religion.  At a Jesuit and Catholic institution, of course, it is appropriate that we have experts in many fields of Christianity (theology, ethics, scripture, history) but we also have very active tenured faculty in Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism/Buddhism.

Future hires in our department, when these are possible, will continue to expand our scope – perhaps an expert in Hispanic or African-American religions in the Americas, or a specialist in Chinese religions, or a social ethicist.

So, no “atheism?”  Hardly.  The RS department recognizes well the impact of various currents of contemporary culture, particularly the power of media story lines, as these shape all our sensibilities — faculty share this culture with our students and the rest of the Fairfield community.

The recent form of modern atheism is one of these currents, as are various movements in humanism or non-religious spirituality, as well as the important voices within the field of religion that approach this study using the critical tools forged by scholars of race, gender, sexual orientation and class.

In fact, the Introduction to Religious Studies course (“RS 10”), while taught in different ways by different faculty, almost always includes some context for placing “non-belief” (atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, etc.) as well as engaging serious challenges to religion and/or religious beliefs and practices.

We have structured our contribution to the core curriculum so that this course serves as the gateway to thinking critically about all religions.

Finally, note that the Religious Studies majors and minors seminar, to be offered by Paul Lakeland in the Fall of 2012, will be on the topic of “Belief and Unbelief.”

There will be a few places available for other interested students (who have taken at least two other RS courses); if you are interested, contact Professor Lakeland.

Or just sign up for a major or minor in Religious Studies!  It’s a fascinating time to be studying religion!



Nancy Dallavalle, Ph.D.

Chair, Department of Religious Studies

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