Guðni Elísson: Ineptitude, Ignorance and Intolerance? Vantrú, The University of Iceland and Academic Responsibility
In February 2010 the atheist organization Vantrú brought charges against religious studies teacher Bjarni Randver Sigurvinsson before the ethics committee at the University of Iceland for the way he had presented the organization in his course New Religious Movements. Although Bjarni was eventually acquitted of all allegations in October 2012, after a long and arduous procedure resulting from serious
administrative mistakes, Vantrú has maintained all its allegations to this day. The author suggests four underlying reasons for the harshness of the criticism that Vantrú directed towards Sigurvinsson. He views their actions as a part of a political agenda; he sees them as a part of identity politics and selfhood formed around atheist believes; as a battle fought to determine what is permitted and forbidden
in religious discourse analysis. Finally, as a result of the implacable manner in which the case against Sigurvinsson was prosecuted by Vantrú from the very beginning, backing down became a virtual impossibility, when Sigurvinsson was finally given the opportunity to explain the academic principles governing his teaching. As a whole, the affair offers revealing insights into the workings of pressure and lobby groups while also raising pressing questions about the independence of academic institutions and the freedom of individual scholars to pursue their research goals, not however in the sense that Sigurvinsson had been pushing dangerously close to the margins of scholarly work, properly understood, rather, the proceedings placed in stark relief the fundamental institutional obligation that the University of Iceland was in fact under to guard the academic freedom of its faculty.
Keywords: New atheism, academic freedom, activism, Vantrú, sociology of religion