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A task force to evaluate the study of religion at the University was created earlier this month by School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rosemary Stevens. The move follows Stevens' recommendation to disband the Religious Studies Department with the American Civilization and Regional Science Departments last fall. The latter two department cuts have been approved by the University Board of Trustees, but the fate of the Religious Studies Department has been in limbo up until late. The task force "has been charged to come up with options for substantive development of education in religious studies for the 21st century," Stevens said last week. "[Given the added time,] we decided that it was a good opportunity to do more task study of the religious studies field at Penn, outside of looking at the department," Stevens said. "The task force is looking at options we have for defining and teaching religious studies at Penn given the resources we have." The committee, comprised of eight faculty members from various University departments, will analyze the best ways to teach religious studies at the University, Religious Studies Department Chairperson and Task Force member Ann Matter said last night. History Professor Bruce Kuklick, chairperson of the Task Force, added that the committee intends "to figure out the best way in which students needs can be met in religious studies and teach the core of courses that define religious studies as a discipline." Everything discussed by the committee is confidential, said Matter, but she was willing to say that after the first three meetings, "everybody has agreed that the study of religion is very important." After meeting two more times, Kuklick said the Task Force will prepare a final report for the dean to be submitted by the end of the semester. As to whether the committee could decide that the best way to teach religious studies is through the current department structure, Kuklick said, "it could be a possibility." David Brownlee, chairperson of the History of Art Department and Task Force member, said that while discussions have been confidential thus far, the committee is looking forward to making a recommendation to the dean. "I don't think that the primary question is whether there should be a department, but how best to teach the subject, that is what we want to inform the dean about," Brownlee said. Stevens said she is also eager to read the Task Force's report. "We need to have strong programs in religious studies here at Penn," Stevens said. "We want to talk about the programs without prejudice, one step at a time, and having an open mind." Stevens added that she has faith in the capability of the Task Force, whether they propose to keep the Religious Studies Department or not. Daily Pennsylvanian Staff Writer Jennifer Kushner contributed to this story.

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