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New Core Loses 'Faith'

Replacement for religion requirement criticized for being a ‘grab bag’

By Lois E. Beckett and Evan H. Jacobs, Crimson Staff Writerss

The task force charged with replacing Harvard’s Core curriculum has dropped its headline-grabbing proposal for a “Reason and Faith” requirement—a category that would have made Harvard the only Ivy to require its undergrads to study religion.

The committeehas also suggested a new course requirement on “what it means to be a human being,” which some professors at yesterday’s Faculty meeting criticized as a “grab bag” category.

Students could fulfill this requirement with a course in areas as varied as evolutionary biology or literature, according to a letter the Task Force on General Education sent last week to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

While the new “what it means to be a human being” requirement was debated at length at the Faculty meeting, the “Reason and Faith” requirement—which received national media attention after it was unveiled with the task force’s original preliminary report in October—seemed to die quietly.

In its letter, the eight-member task force explained that “courses dealing with religion...can be readily accommodated in other categories.”

For example, the Moral Reasoning category can encompass the “normative issues concerning what we do and do not have reason to do and believe,” task force co-chair and Professor of Philosophy Alison Simmons wrote in an e-mail.

“The other categories can easily accommodate descriptive issues concerning the social, political and personal roles that religion has played,” Simmons wrote.Only one speaker at the meeting, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes, lamented the requirement’s demise.

He said that the decision to scrap the “Reason and Faith” requirement was caused by “fears—of Jesuits under beds and priests in every corner—on the part of our learned and articulate colleagues in the room.”

“I hope you will have the courage of your original convictions,” Gomes, who is also Pusey minister in Memorial Church, told the assembled task force.

“I hope the committee will recover its nerve,” he added.


The interdisciplinary “what does it mean to be a human being” requirement emerged from discussions between task force members and other professors, Simmons wrote in an e-mail.

“Colleagues proposed that we consider a category on human nature,” Simmons wrote, adding that the question is “one of the most central questions to be addressed by a liberal arts education.”

“We realize that different disciplines have radically disparate approaches to that question, and that those disparities are fascinating in themselves,” she wrote.

The proposal drew significant concern from some Faculty members at yesterday’s meeting.

Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Susan R. Suleiman told the Faculty that the newly-proposed area was far too broad.

“If the aim of a liberal arts education is not to, among other things, teach us what it means to be human, then I don’t know what it is,” she said, adding that students should be required to take two courses in literature and the arts instead.

Professor of History of Art and Architecture Jeffrey F. Hamburger also criticized the revised report for still giving “short shrift” to the humanities.

“Out of the 11 courses required, only one must be in the humanities. Two or three others could but needn’t be,” he said.

While humanities students must take two courses in the sciences, “students in the sciences or social sciences are not required to reciprocate,” Hamburger said.

But one professor opposed the humanities professors’ focus on the tally of science versus humanities requirements in the Gen Ed report.

“[The report] is trying to break down our narrow parochial barriers,” Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics Andrew Murray said.

Murray also said that professors should not reject the “what does it mean to be a human being” requirement simply because it could contain both science and humanities courses.

“This entire division between the categories, the critique that you can’t mix and match everything that’s wrong with academia,” Murray said.

Simmons said the task force will release its final recommendations in January.


Before discussing the Gen Ed report yesterday, the Faculty approved three measures by unanimous voice vote.

After approving a nearly-80 page list of courses and instructors for Harvard Summer School, the Faculty voted to require student evaluations of all teaching fellows and teaching assistants, even if their course heads opt out of CUE evaluations.

The Faculty also voted to recommend renaming the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS).

If the Harvard Corporation approves, DEAS will become known as the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti said that the name change would increase the prominence of engineering at Harvard.

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached at

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at

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