by James A. Bacon
A newly appointed Task Force on Religious Diversity and Belonging will have the mission of ensuring that UVA is “welcoming to students, faculty and staff across the full spectrum of religions and cultures,” the Ryan administration said Wednesday.
“The group will explore opportunities for meaningful engagement across religious differences and examine the scope of UVA’s educational offerings related to religious cultures and histories, including histories of religious discrimination,” the announcement stated.
“We want every student, faculty member and staff member to understand that they are a vital part of this place and how profoundly they enrich our common life as we take on that fundamental work of the University,” Provost Ian Baucom said.
The initiative comes against a backdrop of the Hamas-Israel war and increasing tension between Muslim and Jewish students nationally. The Students for Justice in Palestine at UVa praised the Hamas Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel as justified resistance to Israeli oppression. Although there have been no documented instances of physical violence against Jews on the Grounds beyond some pushing and shoving, many Jewish students say they have been subjected to ethnic slurs that would never be tolerated for protected minorities, and they are afraid to speak out about the conflict.
We at the Jefferson Council wish the task force well and fervently hope that it can defuse tensions between Muslims and Jews at UVa. However, we are not optimistic.
UVa has spent a decade or more fostering racial/ethnic/religious identity, enabling self-segregation, and propagating an oppressor/oppressed paradigm. It strikes us as unrealistic to expect (a) task force members embracing this paradigm to break free from it, or (b) students whose identity is centered on their ethnicity to suddenly begin reaching out to one another.
As the aphorism goes, to a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail. To faculty and staff marinated in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, every problem looks like oppressor-oppressed inequity. Especially disturbing is language in the announcement that the task force will examine UVa’s course offerings, “including histories of religious discrimination.”
It is not clear from the statement whether the task force thinks that delving into ancient injustices is a good thing or bad thing. The prevailing ideology at UVa seems to be that the unearthing of and fixation upon past grievances is a virtue. Whether resurrecting a century of evils that Jews and Arabs committed against one another, however, is an open question.
According to the announcement, the task force will review campus-climate surveys and institutional data such as “reported incidents of antisemitism, Islamophobia or other religions bias.”
I offer no predictions on what the incident reports will reveal. But we can draw upon the 2018 campus survey of students, faculty and staff — the last comprehensive survey conducted — to provide some preliminary insight. Here is the breakdown of religious affiliation.
Those percentages may have changed somewhat due to the administration’s relentless demographic engineering of the study body, but the 2018 survey is the best estimate we have.
The survey asked responders to rate on a 1-to-6 scale their “comfort” with the environment at UVa. Summarized the survey:
In terms of religious affiliation, the highest mean for any group is 4.12, for those respondents reporting no religious or spiritual preference, followed by Christians at 4.09. Muslim and Jewish respondents had the lowest means of any group, at 3.70 and 3.74 respectively, essentially equivalent.
Jewish respondents also reported a statistically significantly lower level of comfort with the climate for diversity and inclusion (3.91) than almost all other religious affiliations in their department, unit, or program.
The 11 task force members might inquire into the reasons for Jewish alienation. Did Jews in 2018 feel oppressed by Christians? Alternatively, might they be wary of secular, leftist academics — such as the 80 UVa professors who signed an open pro-Palestinian letter recently — who teach that Israel is a colonialist, genocidal apartheid state?
Clues into the worldview of UVa’s professoriat can be seen in the breakdown of courses offered in the spring 2024 semester by the Department of Religious Studies.
African religions — 2 courses
Buddhism — 9 courses
Christianity — 10 courses (not including a course on translating ancient Greek)
Islam — 6 courses
Judaism — 8 courses (one of which is an Old Testament course shared with Christianity)
General religious studies — 20 courses
The general religious studies address such woke themes such as:
- “Black Religion and the Criminal Justice System”
- “Introduction to Black and Womanist Thought,” and
- “Theology and Blackness: Psychoanalysis, Structuralism, Phenomenology.”
It might be claimed that the task force at least has a balance between Muslims and Jews (three each out of eleven). Interestingly for a group that means to ensure belonging among students “across the full spectrum of religions and cultures” at an institution where 46% of the community identifies as Christian, only one task force member represents Christianity — and that professor, Nichole Flores, has preoccupations straight out of Critical Race Theory 101.
According to her UVa web profile, “Dr. Flores researches the constructive contributions of Catholic and Latinx theologies to notions of justice and aesthetics to the life of democracy. Her research in practical ethics addresses issues of democracy, migration, family, gender, economics (labor and consumption), race and ethnicity, and ecology.”
Given the leftist intellectual monoculture that UVa has become, it may be unrealistic to expect any other ideological/religious mix in the task force. We are crossing our fingers and hoping this doesn’t turn out badly.