A critical loss

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Might I draw the attention of readers to the imminent threat to the existence of religious studies at the University of Stirling.

This small but vital unit has promoted the critical, multi-disciplinary study of religions for over 30 years, and a succession of distinguished scholars including Lord Stewart Sutherland, and professors Daphne Hampson, Jeremy Carrette and Gavin Flood have all at various times served in Stirling. Now the four remaining full-time academic staff face compulsory redundancy.

We live in an era in which the increased salience of the religious dimension at all levels of the globalisation process is obvious. The global economy, transformations promoted by social media, fundamentalism, the sacralisation of extreme violence, struggles over the control of women’s bodies, mass migration, the rise of spirituality and the decline of traditional religions in the West, sectarianism, struggles for identity and nationalism manifest religious, or quasi-religious factors. Understanding and interpreting this matrix is a complex but vital task.

There is indeed no shortage of those wishing to study at undergraduate and postgraduate level, not least at the University of Stirling.

It is difficult to prove the utility of the Humanities in Scottish or indeed European higher education in an era in which economic maximisation would appear to predominate over all other values. Religious studies does, however, allow the student to address issues that are, and for the foreseeable future will remain, of crucial importance in the promotion of human wellbeing.

There is a fine tradition of recognising in the Scottish university the “seat of the democratic intellect” (George Davie), and a “community of contested discourses’ (Alasdair MacIntyre). To this I would wish to add the image of the mirror: Scottish universities should afford insight into the mind and soul of the nation. At this juncture of our history, insight into “religion”, and all that this implies, renders this subject area indispensable; that is if we wish to be equipped to understand the others in our midst, and to create community and genuine social solidarity.

The closure of the critical study of religion at Stirling will be a loss to Scotland and this final act should not take place without, I believe, adequate public discussion.

RICHARD H ROBERTS

Emeritus Professor of 
Religious Studies, Lancaster University; sometime 
Professor of Divinity, University of St Andrews

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