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 meeting.

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.

  1. 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 are important.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
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