So saying "Ratzi" is out, right?
February 29, 2012 7:56 AM   Subscribe

As an avowed atheist, should I not apply to a graduate program at a Catholic university?

Obviously the subject matter at hand has nothing to do with religion, or I would not have grown interested in the program before I realized that the university is Catholic. I have no reason to believe that anything doctrinal affects this particular area of study or its faculty.

I personally would not be a member of the campus community aside from my participation in the classes, and I would continue to reside elsewhere. I respect religion and believers, both publicly and in my private views. My atheism has nothing to do with the area of study. Nonetheless, I have a very dark view of the current leadership and mores of the Catholic Church. I would not be writing this question about, say, a Methodist or Jewish university.

Any advice as to approaching this problem would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Education (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Most Catholic universities these days are anything but particularly orthodox. I seriously doubt that you'd run into any issues w/r/t atheism.
posted by jquinby at 8:01 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems the question is whether your dark view is dark enough to warrant a boycott of all things Catholic. The fact that you recognize the program is good for you and you are completely compatible with it suggests that a blanket boycott would be the only reason not to apply for the program.
posted by michaelh at 8:03 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obviously you don't care for the Catholic Church, so why would you affiliate yourself with an organization that is an arm of the Church? It's not like there's a lack of graduate schools out there and certainly there has to be a program not connected with an organization you don't respect or care for.

Clearly this would limit your full participation in what a university can offer. What would the upside be in attending this Catholic school over a public or secular private school?
posted by inturnaround at 8:03 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


A university program is not going to involve any religion classes.

That said, the school leadership is Catholic. I am sure that they would respect your rights and your beliefs. However, it sounds like you would not respect them - like you have a particular issue with Catholics.

If you can not show common courtesy and respect to a Catholic, then frankly, you have no business attending one of their Universities.
posted by Flood at 8:04 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let me qualify a little - if the question is whether or not you'll get grief for being an atheist at a Catholic university, I'm fairly certain that the answer is 'no', especially at one of the larger historically Catholic universities (Notre Dame, say).

If the question is whether or not you'd be able to stomach it, I'm not sure anyone here can know.
posted by jquinby at 8:09 AM on February 29, 2012


I don't think you'd have a problem with the education all things being equal, nor would they have a problem with you being atheist, all things being equal. However, it sounds like you are conflicted about Catholicism as an Entity to the point that it may preoccupy your attention; which could ITSELF negatively affect your experience there, and the way you relate to the school itself.

In other words -- they wouldn't be asking you to tithe or attend mass or anything, nor would the focus of the class be "Catholic-centered," but it sounds like you're always gonna have this "ew, I'm at a Catholic university" feeling at the back of your mind and that's going to have you at a constant state of unease, and people are going to pick up on "why does that guy always seem to have a weird chip on his shoulder," and everyone is going to end up feeling like something unnameable is just a tiny bit "off", and ain't nobody gonna be happy and the class won't go well for you as a result.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on February 29, 2012


A university program is not going to involve any religion classes.

A graduate-level university program is unlikely to involve any religion classes. I had 6 required religion credits and 9 required philosophy credits as an undergrad at my Catholic college. (I'm not Catholic now/wasn't then either.)

I have a very dark view of the current leadership and mores of the Catholic Church. I would not be writing this question about, say, a Methodist or Jewish university.

Anon, I would find another program. Although academically there is likely to be no overlap, you have an anti-Catholic point of view, and your tuition would support the Catholic church.
posted by headnsouth at 8:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have no reason to believe that anything doctrinal affects this particular area of study or its faculty.

There are very few areas of study that can't be effected by Catholic doctrine. And Catholic priests and religious have been and continue to be faculty in many areas of study that are not theological. For instance at Marquette there are Jesuit professors or graduate students in history, engineering, physics, English, German, counseling, law, etc.
posted by Jahaza at 8:18 AM on February 29, 2012


If its a good respected program then who cares.
posted by amazingstill at 8:20 AM on February 29, 2012


I taught, for one semester, at a Catholic university. No, there was no outright preaching to us, or any indication that we were being watched or anything, but there was a real Catholicness to the campus. There was a cross in the front of every classroom, nuns walking around all over the place, little shrines here and there. The school motto and crest and flag and all that were very Catholic, for sure. The school administration, too, was affected--a rigid top-down approach, as one might expect. One definitely knew one was on a religious campus, for sure.

Oh, "and your tuition would support the Catholic church." Even if you're on scholarship, the Catholic Church will benefit from your attendance.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:21 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I teach at a Catholic university, in a graduate program. I'm not Catholic, and I am an atheist. There are some ways it's obvious that this is a Catholic school: there are monks walking around campus, every classroom (every room) has a crucifix in it, and there are lots of kids who rally around during anti-choice activities. However, no one has ever suggested that I teach anything not strictly related to the content of my classes, and I regularly make appropriately critical remarks about Catholic doctrine and policy positions that I feel contradict the spirit and letter of the ethics codes for the discipline I'm teaching about.
posted by OmieWise at 8:23 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Religiously-affiliated universities in my area, with programs in counseling psychology, for example, DO have religious content embedded in the classes and what is taught. I don't know what your field is, but are you really 100% sure that there is no possibility that it could come up? Because it absolutely could. And if it does, are you prepared to accept that you chose to go to that school and chose to put yourself in that position? Because it's going to be 100% your responsibility when it happens, and you won't get the privilege of being outraged about it because you picked the Catholic school and Catholic schools do what they say on the tin. No one's going to set you on fire or banish you or try to bless you and run away or anything, but it would understandably be your responsibility to respect the fact that the school is what it is.

You don't really mention the reasons why you WANT to attend the school, so I would have to wonder about what the pros/cons balance is like. If you're questioning it, I'd guess that the possibility is greater than is really worth it that this might be a hurdle you might not internally be able to clear. The essential question, I think, is whether you want to deal with putting yourself in this position or not, and only you can answer that.
posted by so_gracefully at 8:28 AM on February 29, 2012


I'm going to give you the same advice that I used to give to my fundamentalist Christian friends who were terrified of going college with all of the godless seculars out there with their free condoms and their socialism.

Have some confidence in your beliefs. Yes, there is some possibility that you will run into Catholics who want to approach your chosen field of study from a Catholic perspective, especially at a Catholic university. So what? If you're any good, you'll be able to respect people who come to different conclusions, even if you think those conclusions are wrong or even immoral. If you're worried that your professors will try to proselityze, then you really, really need to meet some Catholic professors.

If you just can't stand to be around people who you think are wrong or immoral -- if you can't stand to see priests or nuns going about their day, for instance -- that is about you, much more than it is about them, and you should maybe even talk to your therapist about it. The Church, despite what you may think, is not the KKK, and a grad program at a Catholic university is not going to be a hotbed of heretic-burning.

I have a friend who is a gay-married lesbian who teaches at a Catholic university. She's not out, but she is perfectly happy and feels completely respected. She teaches sociology from a feminist perspective.
posted by gauche at 8:32 AM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Please keep in mind that your access to health care and medicine may be jeopardized if you choose to attend a Catholic institution. That to me, is a big enough reason to not attend such a program. Especially if you happen to be female.
posted by raztaj at 8:33 AM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Anecdotally: I am a Pagan who attended a Catholic university. It was fine. In fact there was quite a vibrant network of other Pagans (and Atheists) active on campus. I never had any discrimination issues with the exception of having to drop the class of one nutball professor who announced on the first day that she would be failing any students who did not conform to her spiritual & worldviews. (I heard she was fired shortly thereafter.) YMMV.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 8:33 AM on February 29, 2012


I am a professor at a Catholic college and an atheist. When looking at places to apply to work, my rubric was that If they advertise having a queer student group under "student activities" on their college website, then they are broad-minded enough for me to apply to work there. If it is the program you want to go to, then go.
posted by pmb at 8:46 AM on February 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


If you feel your personal ethics would be compromised by attending this institution because by doing so you would in some way be supporting it or benefiting from it, then no, you should not attend.
posted by rtha at 8:47 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go with Flood and say you have a problem with Catholics and so should stay away. (I don't know that I buy your statement that "I respect religion and believers, both publicly and in my private views.")

I've spent a summer at a Catholic university as a queer atheist (but an ex-Catholic). If you were an undergrad, I'd say stay away from that particular university--I knew a couple of atheist undergrads and they found it a bit stifling because the overwhelming majority of the students were enthusiastic about religion. It's a weird culture. But it's a weird culture I don't think the grad students really noticed. I also think that particular university is a bit out an outlier.

(I am slightly amused by the 'there might be monks wandering about'. You could find monks wandering about at the public university I attended. Never saw one that summer I spent at the Catholic university.)

Please keep in mind that your access to health care and medicine may be jeopardized if you choose to attend a Catholic institution. That to me, is a big enough reason to not attend such a program. Especially if you happen to be female.

This is something to check, particularly if your health insurance would force you to rely on the university health center.
posted by hoyland at 8:47 AM on February 29, 2012


It really really matters what Catholic university it is and what the subject matter you are pursuing is.

Most of the better Catholic Universities actually have similarly large issues with Rome, and most of them aren't part of the diocesan system that was most culpable in the scandals of the last 50 years.

But nearly all of the will have an uber-conservative catholic crowd that will constantly be agitating for a return to the 13th century. If you can't laugh at them, then it might drive you crazy.
posted by JPD at 8:51 AM on February 29, 2012


by crowd I meant student group, or more often alumni group.

My alma maters main agitator for a return to the days before the germ theory of medicine graduated in 1982 but still shows up at everything.
posted by JPD at 8:52 AM on February 29, 2012


Although academically there is likely to be no overlap, you have an anti-Catholic point of view, and your tuition would support the Catholic church.

No not really - I think Catholic University in DC is the only catholic school in the US that is part of a diocese. The rest are independent institutions, so your tuition is really only supporting that school.
posted by JPD at 8:55 AM on February 29, 2012


I had a friend who recently turned down a teaching position at a Catholic University because she is queer and she knew that even though she was fairly certain that all of her colleagues would respect and honor her relationship, the actual administration wouldn't or couldn't. As a result certain things that would be a given in other positions [not only health care for the spouse but also things like working on getting a spouse job and various things that married faculty would automatically get she might have to fight for or not even be able to obtain] would not be available to her.

In addition she would be working within a system that implicitly condoned this sort of thing. She asked outright about her partner and options available to her and got a sort of "well there's only so much we can do" response. So, depending on how much that sort of thing is problematic to you, you might or might not feel that you could be part of such an institution. I think this is a lot less about the Catholicism generally and more about how it manifests itself in a workplace situaiton which may vary from workplace to workplace. My friend did not take the job.
posted by jessamyn at 8:55 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm an atheist AND a former Catholic, with absolutely no love for the Church, and I just accepted a tenure-track job at a major Jesuit university. (I start in the Fall.) It was very clear to me from my campus visit that the administration of individual departments was completely independent from church hierarchy. It was an English department, not a Catholic English department.

Friends of mine who have attended other Jesuit universities for graduate or undergraduate education have had the same experience.

There would probably be things that occasionally be things that annoy you on campus, but I've attended a lot of universities by now and honestly that will be true almost anywhere. If you're interested in the program and think it would be a good fit for you otherwise -- and the university is run in the Jesuit style, that is, with general academic independence from the Church -- the Catholic thing doesn't necessarily need to be a deal-breaker for you, in my opinion. Go where you think you'll get the right training and make the right connections; that's what's most important.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk in more depth off the thread.
posted by gerryblog at 8:59 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had a friend who recently turned down a teaching position at a Catholic University because she is queer and she knew that even though she was fairly certain that all of her colleagues would respect and honor her relationship, the actual administration wouldn't or couldn't.

This is an important point. I should say: I'm straight and married. My sense (from asking people about this very question during my job hunt) is that at this point, in 2012, the people running Catholic universities are generally only preoccupied with homoseuxality at the level of administration, not at the level of faculty, and certainly not at the level of graduate students. But it's something to think about.
posted by gerryblog at 9:01 AM on February 29, 2012


Your problem doesn't seem to be a question about the practicalities of being on the campus and whether you will feel smothered by religion or not in day to say student life. Your problem seems to be more institutional/ideological, in that you would feel compromised by participating in an institution that you fundamentally disagree with. So in that sense, I think that you should look for another program. Your feelings are what they are.
posted by deanc at 9:04 AM on February 29, 2012


Please keep in mind that your access to health care and medicine may be jeopardized if you choose to attend a Catholic institution. That to me, is a big enough reason to not attend such a program. Especially if you happen to be female.

Yeah, but this is something you can check on. The health center at the Catholic university where I went to law school regularly dispensed birth control to students. Not all will, of course, but you can find out about it if you want to.
posted by gauche at 9:04 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I read your question correctly, you ask whether you should apply to the program. I say, apply, then if you get into better or equal schools, go the non-Catholic route; if the Catholic school ends up being your best option, reevaluate where you stand.
posted by teragram at 9:37 AM on February 29, 2012


I'm at a Catholic university. I get emails about masses being held at significant events, there is an opening prayer at events like convocation, and the chapel on campus plays a recording of bells a couple times a day. There are sisters on campus who have a room where you can go to study and they'll feed you tea and cookies, I hear.

My access to health care (birth control, controlled medications) has not been affected.

There is actually a movement on campus to change the automatic appointment of a member of the local church to the position of the university's chancellor. I think the school is really only Catholic in history and some tradition - religion has never permeated into my classes beyond the extent that they would in any other university.

If you are still concerned, I suggest you contact students from the school. You can do this by looking for forums related to scholarships or graduate studies. Find out from current or former students what the environment is.
posted by sarae at 9:48 AM on February 29, 2012


Another couple data points about my Catholic university:

We have a gay pride week with flags hanging from the university president's door, a drag show, a well respected professor who performs in the drag show, and positive space training available (and mandatory for my education program, actually). The university administration controls the mass emails to all students and staff but we are always told about these events.
posted by sarae at 9:52 AM on February 29, 2012


You haven't actually listed anything specific that concerns you, but just about all the real problems you might run into relate to healthcare and partners. I would encourage you to think of the conservative fanatics among the student body that you'll likely run into like you would think of the New Agey cultists at any liberal arts college, the born again fanatics at most large state schools, or the LaRouchites at most politically oriented schools. Local flavor.

-Do you have insurance with your parents? If you do then you'll never have to worry about relying solely on school insurance that might not cover something like birth control. If you don't, Catholic institutions are by no means homogenous in how they deal with the ethics of healthcare providing, this could be easily checked by looking at their health insurance information.

-As a graduate student you won't get anything like partner benefits anyway, so those are also not really relevant to your situation.

Also, per your title, saying 'Ratzi' should be right out. All it really does is signal a sort of willful ignorance of the fact that the dude stood up in front of the whole world and changed his name to something that was meaningful to him. It doesn't really succeed at communicating disrespect any more than saying Barack HUSSEIN Obama does, it just tell the listener that the speaker isn't interested in meaningful dialogue, and lord knows the Catholic church can use all of the effective critics it can get.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:10 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it really does matter which Catholic University you are talking about. The Jesuits, for instance, aren't exactly the Vatican's lap dogs.
posted by Carbolic at 10:19 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


No not really - I think Catholic University in DC is the only catholic school in the US that is part of a diocese.

Not true--the Catholic college where I'm employed is part of an archdiocese. I truly believe that that's the only reason we have the limitations on health insurance (BC and fertility treatment) that we do--I think the high-level administrators of the college itself would have no problems with it.

I hesitated a little about working here before I knew the place and its culture--and still struggle a bit with the health insurance issue--but otherwise have encountered very little that strikes me as overtly religious or would turn me off. (I should say that this college was established by nuns, not priests, and based on the nuns we still have here, the liberal Catholic worldview really applies.) We have an LGBT student group. We have openly gay faculty/administration. Gay marriage is legal in my state, and I believe we've had gay alumni publish wedding announcements in our alumni magazine. I don't think I've ever seen any blatant anti-choice propaganda. I know some fairly high level admins are atheists, as I am myself, and most of the faculty strike me as politically liberal. And the grad programs we have are ones that really do fit in well with the mission of the College, which emphasizes service to others above all. I wouldn't hesitate to enroll in one of them at all.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:25 AM on February 29, 2012


All other issues aside, keep in mind that if you complete this degree, you will be listing "Catholic University" on your resume/CV for the rest of your life. This may or may not matter to you in the long run, though there will be some people who will make snap judgements on your candidacy based on that (sometimes it will benefit you, sometimes not).
posted by cessair at 11:10 AM on February 29, 2012


Staunchly atheist ex-Catholic Catholic-University Masters' Program graduate here.

It's a non-issue.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:19 PM on February 29, 2012


Coming from a religious (non-Catholic) background, here's my two cents:

If one of your goals or core beliefs is to "right wrongs" wherever you see them, then I suggest you proceed with caution. If you would attend the school, but try to actively change things to fit your worldview (for example, if you would sue the school because they didn't have health insurance that covers contraception) then I think you would be in the wrong.

I have seen it happen. Students attend a conservative, religious school, then complain about having to go to chapel or loudly decry the lack of progressive student groups. It's nothing but trouble, and, in my opinion, you shouldn't attend a school if you disagree with the basic tenets that much.

On the other hand, if you have no problem with the "Catholic-ness" of the school, and if you have thick enough skin to ignore any indoctrination, I'm sure they'd be happy to have you.
posted by tacodave at 1:34 PM on February 29, 2012


I got a master's degree at Boston College, and the only time I was aware of its Catholicness was Ash Wednesday, and when I was sleeping in on Easter Monday.

Well, also Cardinal Law resigned while I was there, so there were days I had to walk around news vans to get to school, but other than that the experience was indistinguishable from the experience at the secular school where I got my PhD.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:17 PM on February 29, 2012


I will second Carbolic ["I think it really does matter which Catholic University you are talking about. The Jesuits, for instance, aren't exactly the Vatican's lap dogs."] and add this:

There are plenty of secular schools which are far less liberal (however defined) than plenty of Catholic schools. Catholic schools might be far less liberal on average, but the outliers of each class of school stretch far past the mean in either direction. In other words, it's the liberal/illiberal divide you should be worried about, not the Catholic/non-Catholic one.
posted by matlock expressway at 10:34 PM on February 29, 2012


I attended grad school at a Catholic university. Undergrads were required to take a religion class (and perhaps attend church?) but grad students were not. For my graduate program, it was almost identical to my (state school, secular) undergrad - religious never, ever came up and the Catholicness of the school was a non-issue.

Seeing crucifixes in my classroom was a bit weird at first but after awhile just 'eh!'. As an atheist I do not believe you would have any trouble completing your studies.
posted by amicamentis at 1:06 PM on March 1, 2012


[Answer the question and please don't make this into a MeFi post by proxy.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2012


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