Monday, December 3, 2012

Religious Studies Today

I don't know if there was ever a time when a student could take a course in religious studies in an American university and actually learn something important about Christianity, but if ever there was, it's long past.

An article at The College Fix surveys 316 religious studies courses in a dozen major American universities and finds them pretty much devoid of any content that could be considered mainstream religious. Instead, what the researchers found were:
2 classes on witchcraft and shamanism;
2 classes on yoga and meditation;
3 classes on sex and religion;
3 classes on death and afterlife beliefs;
4 classes on religion and doubt/various conflicts;
5 classes on science and religion;
5 classes on mysticism;
12 classes on women/gender and religion; and
14 classes on religion and culture.
Some of the electives, the report says, are too difficult to even classify, such as: emergence, from biology to religion; suffering and transformation; anthropology of body and pain; religious dimensions in human experience; sport and spirituality; and a history of apocalyptic thought and movements.
University of Colorado at Denver’s 40-plus religious studies classes include “whores and saints,” “theories of the universe,” “Freudian and Jungian perspectives in dream analysis,” and “spirituality and the modern world.” No electives focused exclusively on Jesus, however.
Tne article goes on to describe the offerings at other schools similar to those at U. of Colorado. What the researchers didn't find in any of the schools surveyed were many courses that seriously addressed traditional Christianity, or the person of Jesus, who, despite the evident lack of academic interest in him, was easily the most influential individual to have ever lived.

It's a shame that universities have wandered so far from their original mission to teach the "best that has been thought and written" in Western civilization. It's equally lamentable that people pay money to have their kids take such courses that neither nourish their minds nor teach them much of anything useful.

Birth Rate Decline

The folks at the Pew Research Center have come up with some startling statistics about birth trends in the U.S. Here's a quick overview:
The U.S. birth rate dipped in 2011 to the lowest ever recorded, led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession. The overall U.S. birth rate, which is the annual number of births per 1,000 women in the prime childbearing ages of 15 to 44, declined 8% from 2007 to 2010. The birth rate for U.S.-born women decreased 6% during these years, but the birth rate for foreign-born women plunged 14%—more than it had declined over the entire 1990-2007 period. The birth rate for Mexican immigrant women fell even more, by 23%.

Final 2011 data are not available, but according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the overall birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That rate is the lowest since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers. The overall U.S. birth rate peaked most recently in the Baby Boom years, reaching 122.7 in 1957, nearly double today’s rate. The birth rate sagged through the mid-1970s but stabilized at 65-70 births per 1,000 women for most years after that before falling again after 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession.
There's much more at the link along with lots of charts.

The population replacement rate is about 2.1 children per couple. We fell below that for the first time in the U.S. in 2008. If birth rates are continuing to decline that'll have serious consequences for the future of the country. Fewer people means fewer consumers and fewer taxpayers which means a poorer nation. It also means that entitlement programs for the poor are going to be hard pressed to find the wherewithal to sustain them. It also means that there'll be less revenue coming in to the Treasury to support programs like Social Security and Medicare.

There's much talk in the news about the impending "fiscal cliff," but there's a population cliff looming off in the middle distance, which, if it remains unaddressed, will guarantee that people in their twenties today will be much worse off financially when they hit their forties than were their parents and grandparents.