Where did America's rationality go?

Religion occupies a more prominent role in society than perhaps in any other time in our history.

Is this a good thing?

In a lecture entitled "Reason, Unreason and Religion: Say It Ain't So, Where Did America's Rationality Go?" New York Times bestselling author Susan Jacoby addresses the convergence of social forces, which are usually treated as separate entities, that she says has created a perfect storm of anti-rationalism. Jacoby's Oct. 28 lecture, held in Launer Auditorium, is the latest in the Althea W. and John A. Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies series.

These social forces, say Jacoby, include the upsurge of religious fundamentalism, with more political power today than ever; the failure of public education to create an informed citizenry; and the triumph of video over print culture. Sparing neither the right nor the left, Jacoby asserts that Americans have embraced "junk thought" that does not distinguish fact from opinion.

Jacoby is a seasoned writer who has penned eight books, including "The Age of American Unreason," "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism," "Moscow Conversations," based on her experiences in Moscow from 1969 to 1971; "Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge," a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1984; and "Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past." She has been a contributor for more than 25 years to such publications as The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Book World, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Newsday, The Nation and Vogue. Her political blog, entitled "The Secularist's Corner," is on the Web site of The Washington Post.

John A. Schiffman gave $1.5 million — the single largest contribution by a living donor in school history — to the college in honor of his late wife, Althea W. Schiffman '41, to establish an endowed chair in ethics, religious studies and philosophy. "It is my hope that ... Columbia College will become a force in carrying forward the message to students that integrity, honesty, fairness and compassion are just as important as intellect," Schiffman said.

Columbia College was founded as Christian Female College in 1851 expressly to educate young women in a Christian manner. The college now offers a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religious studies, and has retained a covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The college prides itself on its liberal arts curricula, progressive instructors and a diverse student body.