Scholarly study of religion is vital now

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Further to the letter from Richard H Roberts, “A critical loss” (31 August), we are writing as the executive committee of the British Association for the Study of Religions regarding the threat to the religion department at the University of Stirling.

This is a university department that is greatly valued nationally and internationally. We recognise pressures on universities in the current economic climate, but consider this to be precisely the wrong time to diminish scholarly debate about religion and religions in public life.

The academic study of religion has a key role within higher education institutions in its critical examination of the historical role of religions in culture and society. Moreover, the study of contemporary religions in a global perspective is a vital aspect of scholarly studies, informing geo-political debates, issues of religious identity, social justice and what it is to be human.

Staff and students at Stirling have been at the forefront of critical study and debate about religion in the modern university. The department has offered distinctive teaching and pursued challenging research at each stage of its development over 40 years.

Strong concern was expressed at the Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions in Erfurt, Germany, at the end of August when delegates heard the news of the threat to the department. The intersection of the growing importance of understanding religion with the quality of Stirling’s department – distinctive in the Scottish context, outstanding in the UK, and of international significance – encourages us to hope that the threatened closure can still be averted.

(Prof) Graham Harvey

Open University

President of the British Association for Study of Religions

(Dr) Steven Sutcliffe

Edinburgh University, President elect of the 
British Association for Study of Religions

(Prof) Bettina Schmidt

University of Wales 
Trinity Saint David

Honorary secretary of the British Association for Study of Religions

(Dr) Stephen Gregg

Wolverhampton 
University

Honorary treasurer of the British Association for Study of Religions

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