Taking the course of Reason
Austin Dacey

For some time, Europe has led the way in providing opportunities for accredited academic studies in skepticism, humanism, and rationalism.

For instance, in the Netherlands, the University for Humanist Studies at Utrecht offers a six-year interdisciplinary advanced degree program with specialisations in research, policy, education, and counseling. Founded in 1989, the University is recognised and subsidised by the Dutch Ministry of Education and enrolls over 300 students.

At the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, the Perrott-Warrick Research Unit conducts critical, empirical investigation into parapsychological phenomena and sponsors pioneering participatory experiments that have reached over 18 million people through the British mass media.

Education in US

Some rationalist organisations in North America have also developed educa-tional programs. The North American Committee for Humanism was formed in 1982 to establish The Humanist Institute, which was dedicated to leadership training for those involved in organised humanism. Since 1989, the Center for Inquiry Institute has sponsored seminars and workshops in critical inquiry, skepticism, and humanism, including Skeptic's Toolbox, a teamtaught workshop in hands-on skeptical investigation held each summer at the University of Oregon.

Although they have been quite successful, these programs did not offer an accredited degree or credit towards such a degree, and they attracted few 'traditional-age' students. At the same time, English-speaking academic disciplines such as philosophy and religious studies, which had been dominated by the naturalistic worldview throughout the first half of the twentieth century, have seen the return of self-confident and intellectually respectable non-naturalism and theism in the last twenty-five years. Courses and institutes on spirituality and untested alternative medicine proliferate at mainstream medical schools

The launch of a summer schoolprogramme

In December 2001 the Center for Inquiry Institute announced a dramatic consolidation and expansion of its efforts: the launch of a two-week summer school with courses available for transferable college credit through the State University of New York system.

The full-time courses, seminars, assistantships, and recreational activities are held in and around the Center for Inquiry main campus in Amherst, New York, taking full advantage of its staff, classrooms, computing facilities, and 34,000-plus volume libraries, as well as its proximity to the University at Buffalo and Upstate New York attractions.

Traditional students are being attracted through the Campus Freethought Alliance and other student networks maintained by the Center, and exchange programs with Chinese and Russian institutions are being arranged. Undergraduate students may apply for assistantships that include partial or full tuition waivers.

Together with the Skeptic's Toolbox workshop, this main summer session establishes a permanent, annual academic calendar for the Institute, made possible by the recent establishment of a specially dedicated one million dollar endowment.

Credited programme

Organisers see the new summer school as an important step towards the creation of a North American degree program in critical inquiry and naturalism. Past students of the Institute have gone on to work at The American Prospect magazine, About.com, Council for Secular Humanism, Skeptical Inquirer, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and elsewhere. Others have participated for personal enrichment or to inform their community activism.

Now undergraduate students may attend Institute offerings to earn credit toward degrees at their home institutions.

"North America has long needed a permanent home for academically rigorous training in critical rational inquiry and philosophical naturalism
," commented Institute president Dr. Paul Kurtz. "Thanks to the commitment of our many loyal students, friends, and supporters, we can now say that the Center for Inquiry is that home."

2002 Summer Session

The 2002 main summer session runs July 14-28, and comprises courses in Introduction to Critical Inquiry (logic, critical thinking, and scientific reasoning) and History and Philosophy of Naturalism, along with guest lectures, presentations, and guided cultural tours to Upstate New York sites of historic importance to skepticism and freethought.

Students who cannot attend the full session may register for one or both weekend seminars (July 19-20 and July 26-27), which include a special guest presentation on Friday evening, an all-day guided cultural tour on Saturday, and a Saturday luncheon.

Course instructors and lecturers for summer 2002 include:

  • Glenn C. Altschuler, Professor of American Studies at Cornell University and coauthor of 'Revivalism, Social Conscience and Community in the Burned-Over District: The Trial of Rhoda Bement' (Cornell 1983);
  • Nicholas Capaldi, a professor in the departments of philosophy and law at The University of Tulsa, former editor of Public Affairs Quarterly, and author of 'The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking'
    (Prometheus Books 1987);
  • Margaret Downey, founder and director of the Anti-Discrimination Support Network and invited representative at United Nations conferences on freedom of conscience;
  • Richard Hull, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University at Buffalo and executive director of The Texas Council for the Humanities;
  • Marvin Kohl, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, City University of New York; author of 'The Morality of Killing' (Humanities Press 1974);
  • Paul Kurtz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University at Buffalo;
  • Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal; and,
  • Sally Roesch Wagner, lecturer and historian seen on the Ken Burns documentary, 'Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.'

To obtain an application or more information, visit www.centerforinquiry.net or contact Center for Inquiry Institute, PO Box 741, Amherst, New York 14226, USA, tel: 716-636-4869 x223, fax: 716-636-1733,

Published in the International Humanist News, July-issue 2002

About the author:
Austin Dacey is director of the Center for Inquiry Institute and executive editor of Philo, an academic journal of philosophical naturalism.