Does God Make a Difference?: Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities

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In this provocative book Warren A. Nord argues that public schools and universities leave the vast majority of students religiously illiterate. Such education is not religiously neutral, a matter of constitutional importance; indeed, it borders on secular indoctrination when measured against the requirements of a good liberal education and the demands of critical thinking. Nord also argues that religious perspectives must be included in courses that address morality and those Big Questions that a good education cannot ignore. He outlines a variety of civic reasons for studying religion, and argues that the Establishment Clause doesn't just permit, but requires, taking religion seriously. While acknowledging the difficulty of taking religion seriously in schools and universities, Nord makes a cogent case for requiring both high school and undergraduate students to take a year long course in religious studies, and for discussing religion in any course that deals with religiously controversial material. The final chapters address how religion might best be addressed in history, literature, economics, and (perhaps most controversially) science courses. He also discusses Bible courses, and the relevance of religion to moral education and ethics courses.

While his position will be taken by some as radical, he argues that he is advocating a "middle way" in our culture wars. Public schools and universities can neither promote religion nor ignore it. Does God Make a Difference? increases our understanding of a long and heated cultural conflict; it also proposes a solution to the problem that is philosophically sound and, in the long run, eminently practical.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Infusing American public schools and colleges with an intellectual seriousness about religion that produces liberally educated students without religious indoctrination will be a challenge. Nord makes a convincing argument that it is possible. Sadly, our public education system could not be transformed during Nord's lifetime. Fortunately, he left us this intriguing blueprint."—First Things

"Warren Nord has been among the most fair, incisive, and thoughtful voices in our discussions and arguments about religion and education in recent decades. Does God Make a Difference? is a gift to all of us who want to think clearly and smartly about what is reasonable, just, constitutional, and intellectually defensible when it comes to religion and schools. A must read."
— Christian Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director, Center for the Study of Religion & Society, University of Notre Dame

"Does God Make a Difference? is a daring, provocative and brilliant argument for taking religion seriously in American schools and universities. Combining philosophical sophistication with a lively style, Warren Nord exposes the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of an education that largely ignores religious perspectives - and then explains how we can, and must, do better. If you care about the state of education in America, read this book and take it to heart."
—Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar, Freedom Forum First Amendment Center

"Warren Nord has long been our most compelling critic of secular indoctrination masquerading as religious neutrality. This splendid final volume of his trilogy on religion and education is, like his previous books, learned, insightful, judicious, thoughtful, and illuminating. But this one is something more—a cry from the heart, reflecting a long and deep-spirited labor of love."
—Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary; Professor of Religion, Columbia University

"This is a wonderful book, a worthy successor to the author's magisterial Religion and American Education. All of Nord's singular strengths are on display here: a clear, jargon-free writing style; an ability to do a panoramic sweep of the history of religion and religious studies in America's schools and universities without watering down the analysis; the commitment to be scrupulously fair to all sides of the Does God Make a Difference? question; and, finally, the willingness to tackle head-on all the truly controversial issues and dilemmas in making the case for educators at all grade levels to take religion seriously throughout the curriculum."
—Robert J. Nash, Professor, Official University of Vermont Scholar in the Humanities and Social Sciences

"Nord makes a convincing argument that it is possible. Sadly, our public education system could not be transformed during Nord's lifetime. Fortunately, he left us this intriguing blueprint."—Patrick J. Wolf, University of Arkansas

"Does God Make a Difference? develops an argument that has been crying out to be made. Nord gave twenty years to getting a fair shake for religion in public education. Through a crie de coeur, Nord seems to have spoken in a way that any fair-minded educator would have to agree with, dismantling objections and prejudices all along the way. His writing is clear, straightforward, careful, and rigorous."—Journal of Education and Christian Belief

"Nord's vision of a liberal education is ambitious and inspiring...This book displays Nord's immense knowledge about public education, the development of higher education, the first amendment, academic freedom, and the philosophy of religion, among other subjects. Nord is a compelling and eloquent advocate for his cause."—The Journal of Higher Education

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199766888
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/10/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Warren A. Nord was director of the interdisciplinary Program in the Humanities and Human Values (1979-2004) and taught the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of education (1981-2009) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Table of Contents


1. Does God Still Matter at the Beginning the Twenty-First Century?
2. Does God Measure Up to American Standards?
3. The Secularization of American Education
4. Problems

5. Liberal Education
6. Moral, Existential, and Civic Arguments
7. Constitutional Considerations
8. Complications, Concerns, and Clarifications

9. The Basics
10. Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum
11. Religion and Science Courses
12. Religion and Moral Education


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