Scottish university's special religious studies program 'faces closure'

(Photo: REUTERS / Olivia Harris)Czech priest Tomas Halik (L) acknowledges Jack Templeton, son of John Templeton, the founder of the Templeton Prize, during the 2014 Templeton Prize award in London March 13, 2014. Halik, a Catholic priest whose theology of paradox invites believers and atheists to dialogue has won the 2014 Templeton Prize, worth .83 million, for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life.

Uncertainty clouds the future of the University of Stirling in Scotland's religion program that has a special focus on the impact of different faiths and beliefs on society.

Stirling University has responded to concern over the imminent closure of its religion department, but its future remains uncertain, the Scotland-based Ekklesia think tank reported Aug. 25.

The university in a historical Scottish city is a top school in the United Kingdom and its religion studies program has a noted track record of independent, critical enquiry on the impact of religion in society.

Stirling is planning to scrap its pioneering religion department with almost immediate affect, Ekklesia had reported the day before.

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There is no indication of any changes to the program on the university's website.

"We believe that the question of religion remains absolutely essential to our thinking about what it means to be human, and especially what it means to be human in relationship, in what we can now only call a post-secular 21st century," the university website explains about the program.

"Exercising careful observation and judgement: For us, religion must be examined with utmost rigor, not taking for granted pre-conceived notions or inherited traditions, but carefully examining the ideas of religion, with all their variegated histories."

The courses seek to uncover both the "complexities and profundities that 'religions' have always embodied, as well as the new possibilities that the term 'religion' (or its substitutes) might now afford."

Unlike many religion studies programs worldwide, theology is not promimently mentioned.

News of a decision to end the university's religion teaching program ahead of the September start, and to offer severance to faculty, was communicated as preparations for a new term were already underway, Ekklesia reported.

The university does not indicate this on its website anywhere

Ekklesia said that under pressure, the university said was prepared to talk about "sustainability" and to ensure that current students can complete programs.

The University of Stirling's communications department said in an anonymous statement to Ekklesia: "We are in discussions to secure a sustainable future for Religious Studies.

"All current students of religious degree programs and those starting their studies in September will be able to complete their studies."

Staff received news of the closure as preparations for a new term were already underway.

Neither the principal of the University of Stirling, Professor Gerry McCormac, nor the head of the School of Arts and Humanities, Professor Richard Oram, responded to Ekklesia's requests for comment.

Ekklesia was told in the statement that "respecting confidentiality, we are not in a position to add anything further at this stage."

No specific assurance has been given that first and second year students will be able to graduate with a degree including the title 'Religious Studies' within two years.

There is also no information about whether courses on offer for years three and four will continue or not.

There is also no mention about postgraduate research and teaching.

A groundbreaking religion and politics program that was in planning stages for a possible 2016 start is among those currently threatened.

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