Veritas Forum explores role of faith at secular universities


Ebony Calloway/The Daily Northwestern

Satyan Devadoss presents his Christian worldview to more than 500 people in Ryan Family Auditorium on Tuesday evening. The event, called the Veritas Forum, discussed the role of faith in a secular university.

David Lee, Reporter

Students and community members nearly filled the Ryan Family Auditorium on Tuesday to attend The Veritas Forum’s panel discussion on the role of faith at a secular university.

The three presenters included Williams College Prof. Satyan Devadoss, Northwestern philosophy Prof. Axel Mueller and University President Morton Schapiro. American studies Prof. William Haarlow moderated the discussion.

Devadoss, a mathematics professor, was the main speaker of the night. He used his time during the event to explain his belief in Christianity. He critiqued modern religious studies and said that many Bible readers are only viewing the text as a scientific document. Rather, he said he believes the Bible and its message is meant to be seen from many angles.

“I don’t believe in the Christian faith because it gives my life meaning or it’s emotionally satisfying,” Devadoss said. “I’m a mathematician. I have no emotions to satisfy. Faith best explains my deep questions. The beautiful mess that I see.”

Many Christian audience members said they were very satisfied with what Devadoss had to say. Jens Notstad (McCormick ’09), who works for Church of the Redeemer at NU and participated in planning the event, said he thought Devadoss was great in providing a cohesive back-and-forth between panel members.

“Satyan has such a great story, diverse family background,” Notstad said. “He really is a unique individual in the academic arena. He was very engaging, honestly.”

Schapiro, an observant Jew, followed by telling his own conviction of faith. Particularly, he said he was challenged by a Christian minister who told Schapiro that he had the wrong faith. He said he struggled with the idea that people of faith believe followers of other religions are wrong.

Schapiro told The Daily after the event that he did not know he would be speaking until moments before he went onstage.

“When they turned to me and said, ‘It’s your turn to speak,’ I said, ‘For how long?’” Schapiro said.

Mueller then presented his secular humanist worldview by championing science as the ultimate source of knowledge. The senior lecturer has gained a following for his philosophical work in conceptual content and empirical knowledge of particulars.

“When we contrast faith and knowledge, we believe in something in spite of a lack of evidence,” Mueller said.

He ultimately said he believes that the role of faith at a secular university should be no more than discussion of “theology among consenting adults.”

A short question-and-answer session followed the presentations. Questions were both asked by other panelists and submitted by the audience.

When asked how open professors should be about their faith in class, Devadoss said professors have nothing to hide because their faith will change how they view everything. However, he also said there are some limitations.

“I’m a mathematics professor,” he said. “I can’t tell my students I’m a Christian and then say, ‘Let’s integrate!’”

Weinberg freshman Arpan Doshi said he really enjoyed the exploration of the boundaries of religious tolerance.

“Equal respect for others is a very important value and a moral concept that we should keep in mind when we interact with other people,” he said.

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