Monday, October 22, 2007

In bed with a Trollope

I've been struck down over the last few days, and - judging from previous experiences with the same unpleasantness - it will be a few more days before I'm really up and about again, and a while yet before really 100%. Still, I'm on the mend, and have gone through the stages of just about managing a Michael Dibden, then devouring a second, and now I am up to the delights of a Trollope again (so back to Barchester Towers).

And also, thanks to wireless networking, I can idly surf the web in bed. I hadn't previously noticed this excellent letter from Richard Dawkins, which ends:

Of course, university departments of theology house many excellent scholars of history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology, and other worthwhile and important subjects. These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university. But as for theology itself, defined as "the organised body of knowledge dealing with the nature, attributes, and governance of God", a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today's universities.

Spot on. It is depressing to find, though, that some comments on Dawkins would put philosophy in the same boat as theology. Now, a few ignorant remarks in this vein wouldn't matter in themselves -- but I suspect that they are symptomatic of a much more widespread deep ignorance of what analytical philosophy is about, even among those who should perhaps know. How else do we explain that the powers that be at Cambridge (of all places) think it is perfectly respectable to peg the philosophy faculty here at just twelve for the last nineteen years while our student numbers have grown by almost 80% -- and indeed, they proposed to cut the number of faculty a few years ago -- while there are twenty one(!) theologians in the divinity faculty. Sigh.

But Trollope would have been no more surprised by the oddities of ancient universities than by those of ancient churches.

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