This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Vassar Hosts “Varieties of Secular Experience” Conference

“Varieties of Secular Experience: Pedagogy, Politics, and Meaning in the Liberal Arts” will be a two-day conference held on Vassar’s campus from November 13–14, sponsored by Vassar, Williams College, Macalester College, and Bucknell University. Two years ago, the sponsoring schools formed the “Secularity and the Liberal Arts Project” to explore how a secular learning environment both enables and limits students’ questions of meaning and purpose; the conference is the conclusion of that project. Reverend Samuel Speers (pictured), director of Vassar’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, notes that all four schools value secular ideas “as a means to promote tolerance and critical thought, and to create democratic institutions and civic engagement.” But, he adds, they also ask “whether uncritical secular assumptions are unintentionally stripping some students and faculty of fundamental aspects of their identity.”

Conference participants will include faculty and chaplains from a number of schools, such as Amherst, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, and MIT. Vassar professors Randolph Cornelius, Rachel Kitzinger, and Amitava Kumar, among others, will serve as panelists and moderators. And a number of alumnae/i also will be in attendance, including three recent graduates — Laura Votey ’06, James Reich ’05, and Jonathan Figdor ’06 — who are all current students at Harvard Divinity School.

Supported by a grant from the Teagle Foundation, the conference will include a number of lectures, panel discussions, and presentations, beginning with a roundtable featuring eight student panelists who will discuss how these issues are engaged on their respective campuses. The conference sessions are free and open to the public; all will take place in Main Building’s Villard Room.

November 2008

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