In late 2001 the UCSB GE Task Force solicited departmental
responses to its June 2001 report. This is the response by the Religious Studies
Dept., which was distributed to the Task Force membership at its Feb. 15, 2002
12 February, 2002
TO: Muriel Zimmerman, Chair, Academic Senate Task Force on General Education
FROM: xx, Department of Religious Studies
RE. Department of Religious Studies Response to the General Education Task Force Recommendation.
The faculty in the Department of Religious Studies discussed the Recommendation of the General Education Task Force (dated 11 June, 2001) at its regular faculty meeting on Wednesday, 6 February. The chair of the department, Wade Clark Roof, asked me to provide the task force with our response to the recommendation. This response has been distributed to the faculty in Religious Studies and their comments and revisions have been integrated into this memo to you and the members of the Task Force.
The faculty in Religious Studies wishes to acknowledge the difficulty of attempting to make revisions to the one component of the undergraduate curriculum, the General Education Program, which binds the campus undergraduates together. We are certain that there are countless hours of work and serious discussion reflected in the pages of the recommendation. Professor Carlson has provided us with general reports as appropriate on the progress of the committee over the past year and half.
- Several years ago the Hewlett[-Packard; error] funded Compass Project brought
to this campus a series of individuals who were well-known nationally for
their contributions to programs in General Education. Among them was Provost
Copenhaver who was one of your consultants. There was considerable unanimity
among these individuals who made public presentations to a fairly extensive
group of faculty and then discussed our current General Education Program.
They agreed that the current General Education Program had little that actually
held it together. As many commented, it was a menu in which the students had
little direction in selecting which courses met requirements. It failed to
articulate a unified or compelling vision as to what we as faculty here on
this campus believe the requisite general knowledge should be for an undergraduate
student. While there are many things that the faculty in Religious Studies
believes are important in the recommendation (e.g., the emphasis upon writing
and the leadership and governance components of the recommendation) we do
not believe that this fundamental problem has been alleviated. The students
still put their general education courses together without a compelling intellectual
structure which expresses a vision of our values for undergraduate education.
We are aware that some might believe that such a structure is impossible;
there are too many conflicting and contradictory forces within the total array
of undergraduate courses and departmental curricula. We would urge the task
force not to surrender on this vital point of developing a vision which would
sustain General Education and guide the student to the results which we think
- We believe that the rubrics for the Core courses, namely
Art Studies, Textual Studies, Historical Studies, Social Sciences, and Science
and Mathematics, are appropriate, and perhaps more precise than the current
categories of the General Education Program. However, we are concerned that
the actually language used in the description of the Core rubrics or fields,
is not accurate. We recognize that the departments listed with each are "not
intended to be complete" and our concern is not with omission. Religious Studies
from its inception and its development over the past thirty-five years is
an interdisciplinary discipline. There are many disciplines represented by
our faculty and our courses, and indeed our courses would seem to meet more
than one rubric of the Core. We believe the descriptive language should be
revised. Instead of "Disciplines..." the language should be "Courses..." We
believe this is necessary so as not to negatively affect departments and disciplines
which are self-consciously interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary.
We also note another problem in the recommendation. For much of the past fifteen
years as we have searched for a powerful intellectual identity for the campus
and there is considerable agreement that that identity lies in our commitment
to interdisciplinary studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
We do not believe that interdisciplinary teaching is sufficiently represented
in the structure of the Core. This can be remedied quite easily by taking
the paragraph "Interdisciplinary courses are welcome: courses can satisfy
more than one area of the core, although students may not use any single course
to satisfy more than one area. We hope that all divisions and departments
will develop two-course sequences in addition to individual courses that meet
Core requirement" or some version of it to the actual description of the Core
rather than to leave it in the section 4.2.
- Our greatest concern is that the Western Civilization
Requirement has been dropped in the proposed revision. We unanimously believe
that this is an error and thus support the dissenting minority recommendation
for its retention. We unanimously believe that the minority's rationale for
the requirement is correct. We are in a time when constructions of "Western
Civilization" are being challenged, often violently, by those who formulate
"civilization" appositionally against some notion of Western Civilization.
We would do a great disservice to our students if we failed to provide them
with the tools to understand the culture whose influence has been so extensive
and presently provides such a powerful mechanism of challenge. And we believe
it is impossible to dismiss the concept of the "West" when it is reified by
American government, media and culture in general as well as by the rest of
the world. We cannot live in denial: the "West" will not go away.
Further, we believe that the majority position misunderstands what this requirement
does or does not do. Perhaps there is an implicit assumption that the study
of Western Civilization is synonymous with its celebration. The critique should
be a part of any good course in Western Civilization as it is in other types
of courses. We also believe that there is another false assumption in the
majority position, that Western Civilization is homogeneous. That assumption
cannot be proven correct and is an assumption that must be critically scrutinized.
Indeed, that assumption only proves the necessity of the requirement. We would
hope that the study of Western Civilization would be another arena to pursue
the importance of diversity. As you know, Religious Studies contributes one
series of courses to the Western Civilization requirement, Religious Studies
80a,b, and c, "Religion and Western Civilization." We have worked very diligently
to make that course sequence an example of interdisciplinary learning and
scholarship. And, most importantly to demonstrate the immense diversity of
the West. In the first quarter of that course, students examine three great
civilizational areas which lie at the foundations of the West, the ancient
Near East, Ancient North Africa, and Greece and Rome, as well as the beginnings
of Judaism and Christianity. In the second quarter, students explore the very
complex interactions between Judaism, Christianity and Islam around the Mediterranean
world. And, in the third quarter, students learn about the diverse philosophical
and theological traditions which still mark this culture's thinking and selfconsciousness.
In each, the diversity of West is the central project, precisely because we
know that too many of our students have little knowledge of the multiple cultures
of the West that have formed and shaped contemporary life. We believe that
a General Education Program that did not require significant study of the
West would indeed be a very serious error.
We also believe there is a significant role for a "civilization" course or
courses in our General Education Program. Here, we are concerned not solely
with the content of the course (i.e., that it meets the organizational rubrics
of the Core), but also the type of course. The important role of broad, integrative
survey courses is that they combine arts, letters, and sciences into a larger
contextualized whole. If students take only narrowly focused courses, they
emerge with a pointillistic sense of the past that is devoid of larger processes
and transformations. Such courses are often labeled "civilization" course
precisely for their characteristic of bringing together different disciplinary
voices. We feel that it would be a real and significant loss to the university
standards if students were not to take a handful of these broad-based courses
to contextualize the more specific coursework that they do in the specific
disciplinary rubrics of the Core. We might give only one example to underscore
our thinking here. A quarter on Sophocles does not fulfil the same function
as a "civilization" survey course.
- The removal of the Western Civilization requirement also raises another
very significant problem for us. Indeed, the absence of the requirement forces
us to consider is it sufficient to only require students to take a Western
Civilization requirement. We believe that we have given sufficient reason
for the Task Force to reconsider its view of the Western Civilization requirement,
but we must underscore that it in itself is no sufficient to prepare our students
to understand the world in which they will lead their professional lives.
Religious Studies on our campus is not only a multidisciplinary discipline.
It is also a comparative project. Hence, while we believe that a Western Civilization
course requirement is necessary, we are also fully supportive of a requirement
that students take a specified number of "civilization" courses and gives
a distribution guideline such that students are compelled to take at least
one "Western Civilization" course and at least one "civilization" course from
somewhere else in the world. Here, we suggest the model of our Comparative
Literature program which has developed a very important model of how to make
Comparative Literature truly comparative and to set it in a global context.
The Task Force should consider adopting a model in which students are forced
to study "civilizations" comparatively. For example, perhaps students might
be required to take 3 quarters of "civilization" courses: one must be western,
but no more than two from any one region to be counted toward filling this
requirement (i.e., a student could take 2 western and 1 other or 2 other and
1 western civilization). This would mean that everyone gets some Western Civilization
and everyone is reminded that not all civilization is western.
- Lastly, we are concerned about the vision of the General Education program
and getting beyond the simple random menu choice that has plagued our program.
We have noted this at points 1 and 2 above. But the issue of the civilization
requirement speaks to this issue as well. Not only has the campus invest considerable
effort in the interdisciplinary nature of our undergraduate programs, but
we have also placed a great deal of energy into "internationalizing" the curriculum.
It should be remembered that in the 1960s, UCSB was declared the international
campus of the UC and more recently we have invested considerable energy in
promoting "global studies." It seems very curious to us the comparative civilizations
requirement that we suggest above is not represented in a very significant
way in the recommended new program. This is all the more crucial we believe
since the General Education requirements act not only as a set guideline for
students, but as a public statement by the entire university about the values
and priorities we maintain in undergraduate education.
Cc: Wade Clark Roof, Chair, Department of Religious Studies
Faculty in Religious Studies
David Marshall, Dean of the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts
Richard Watts, Chair, UCSB Academic Senate
document scanned by H. Marcuse, 11/15/03
back to top, 2001 GE Task Force Report,
WCiv discussion document, GE