Funding professorships

There’s a troubling news item concerning a scholar of Mormon history whose research has contradicted the official Mormon version of events, and possibly as a consequence, is having trouble getting an academic post. From the story:

Mr. Quinn’s struggles reflect the rising influence of religious groups over the teaching of their faiths at secular colleges, despite concerns about academic freedom. U.S. universities have usually hired religious-studies professors regardless of whether they practiced or admired the faiths they researched. But some universities are bending to the views of private donors and state legislators by hiring the faithful.

This isn’t a new problem for universities — science departments occasionally run into conflicts of interest with sources of funding as well. And a few physicists have complained about Templeton money possibly influencing some colleagues’ public pronouncements concerning religion and science.

Still, this doesn’t mean funders’ influence on religious studies is not a cause for concern. It’s bad enough that in the United States, religious studies departments too often function as centers for liberal theology. But we also have no end of chairs of Islamic studies funded through Saudi money, etc. etc. I’d like to be able to put more trust in academia than in the advocacy-“research” groups that have inserted themselves into policy issues.