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Letter to the Editor: Against intolerance in academia

To the editor:

I was pleased to see Kate Fritzsche's '10 thoughtful column regarding the difficulties facing religious students at Brown ("The secret life of Catholics at Brown," Sept. 17). I, too, have noticed that God is generally unpopular in academia. This is either the chicken or the egg of the erroneous belief that intellectualism and faith are irreconcilable, a myth that Ms. Fritzsche appropriately denounces.

Despite my overall agreement with Ms. Fritzsche's assessments, I thought her analysis of Jewish students at Brown could stand to be more nuanced. I agree that how Jewish students identify "culturally," and the religious practices that might be part of that identification, are widely accepted and tolerated at Brown, which is of great benefit to those who experience their identity in dynamic ways. But when it comes to being "religious" in the more common sense of the term, where appeals to cultural heritage alone do not capture the essence of a particular student's identity, I think Jewish students face the same problems ­— as do students of all religious backgrounds. Those who identify "culturally" are more accepted than those who make belief, faith and/or doctrine a stronger part of what it means to identify with a particular religion or ethnoreligious group.

This attitude toward any religious group represents a certain "soft intolerance" that is often masked in the guises of liberal academia, but is in fact an adulteration of the very meaning of pluralism. If we are only "pluralistic" to others who share our views of what pluralism means and who it includes, we allow ourselves to falsely congratulate our "tolerance." I know Brown students are intellectually responsible enough to work harder to avoid this delusion so that we can all learn from one another, which is truly what we are here to do.

Jana Jett Loeb '08


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