Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Interest in Philosophy and Religious Studies is Growing

Philosophy, religion, & coffee!
In my MCCC philosophy classes I find that many students want an opportunity to discuss the "big questions" of life. They want to talk about God, about what it means to know something, and about the various world religions.

In "Philosophy as Confession" John Cottingham writes:

"Philosophy is among the fastest-growing A-level subjects in Britain. This suggests that despite the pressure from governments to increase the teaching of technical, career-oriented subjects, a lot of sixth-formers have a stubborn interest in more traditional enquiries about the meaning of life. Also near the top of the list of fast-growing subjects is Religious Studies; and this again seems to confound the experts. Notwithstanding constant announcements that religion in educated Western Europe is "on the way out", many intelligent young people seem to have a keen desire to learn about traditional spiritual frameworks of human understanding."
("Sixth-former" - in the UK, the most senior class in a secondary school.)

But there is a problem. Students who want to study philosophy and religion to inquire about life's deeper meaning and purpose will often end up working "within intricate, introverted "research" programmes, whose wider significance they might be hard pressed to explain to anyone outside their special area."

Philosopher Stanley Cavell is challenging this "prevailing paradigm." "Though trained in the Anglo-American analytic tradition, he has also been strongly influenced by the so-called "continental" philosophical school, which has traditionally been less concerned with minute piecemeal analysis and more sympathetic to addressing grand existential questions about why we are here and how we are to make sense of our lives."

I love philosophical inquiry when wielded to address the "big questions." (I've got a copy of the book I just cited. On amazon it's only $154! I paid far less at the time.) So do my students. It's growing in the UK, and elsewhere I suspect. It's "perennial philosophizing."