AAR Statement on Academic Freedom and the Teaching of Religion
The AAR has long been committed to the fundamental principles of academic freedom articulated by the American Association of University Professors in its 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure.1 In its 1995 mission statement the AAR affirmed that "within a context of free inquiry and critical examination, the Academy welcomes all disciplined reflection on religion–both from within and outside of communities of belief and practice."2 The AAR promotes excellence in scholarship and teaching in the field because "there is a critical need for ongoing reflection upon and understanding of religious traditions, issues, questions, and values."3 That such a pursuit of understanding might sometimes prove unsettling or challenging to students or teachers is to be expected, especially when students are unaccustomed to analytical reflection on their own religious practices and beliefs or to historical and sociological reflection on their own traditions and communities.
The AAR fully supports the position that free inquiry about religion and critical examination of its multiple dimensions should be guided by the teacherís best judgment as a participant in his or her own discipline and by recognition of the need, in all academic inquiry, to consider–and to examine critically–diverse points of view.
Teaching about religion, in any educational context, essentially involves critical inquiry: questioning of assumptions, some of them long taken for granted; attending to multiple points of view, some of them disturbing; and engaging with the methods and findings of other scholars, some of whom are themselves religious, whereas others are not.
Teachers are obliged to show respect to their students, their colleagues, and the human beings they study. They are also obliged to pursue their own work and to judge the work of their students in light of shared scholarly norms. To fulfill the latter obligation, teachers need to be free from intimidation and free to make pedagogical decisions on the basis of shared scholarly norms, as understood by qualified peers. This is the core of academic freedom. Without it, there can be no such thing as academic responsibility.
While complaints about pedagogy and scholarship should of course receive due consideration, it is vitally important for institutions of higher learning to preserve an atmosphere of free inquiry and instruction–not least of all in the study of religion, where the nature of the subject matter guarantees that passions will often run strong and disagreements sometimes go deep.