Cynicism and naivety lie cheek by jowl in the American imagination if the United States is one of the most venal nations on Earth, it is also one of the most earnestly idealistic.
Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that.
For the liberal state to accommodate a diversity of beliefs while having few positive convictions is one of the more admirable achievements of civilization.
If history, philosophy and so on vanish from academic life, what they leave in their wake may be a technical training facility or corporate research institute. But it will not be a university in the classical sense of the term, and it would be deceptive to call it one.
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is 'The Book of British Birds,' and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.
In the end, the humanities can only be defended by stressing how indispensable they are and this means insisting on their vital role in the whole business of academic learning, rather than protesting that, like some poor relation, they don't cost much to be housed.
Irish fiction is full of secrets, guilty pasts, divided identities. It is no wonder that there is such a rich tradition of Gothic writing in a nation so haunted by history.
It is in Rousseau's writing above all that history begins to turn from upper-class honour to middle-class humanitarianism. Pity, sympathy and compassion lie at the centre of his moral vision. Values associated with the feminine begin to infiltrate social existence as a whole, rather than being confined to the domestic sphere.
It is true that too much belief can be bad for your health.
Most poetry in the modern age has retreated to the private sphere, turning its back on the political realm.
One side-effect of the so-called war on terror has been a crisis of liberalism. This is not only a question of alarmingly illiberal legislation, but a more general problem of how the liberal state deals with its anti-liberal enemies.
Poetry is the most subtle of the literary arts, and students grow more ingenious by the year at avoiding it. If they can nip around Milton, duck under Blake and collapse gratefully into the arms of Jane Austen, a lot of them will.
The British are supposed to be particularly averse to intellectuals, a prejudice closely bound up with their dislike of foreigners. Indeed, one important source of this Anglo-Saxon distaste for highbrows and eggheads was the French revolution, which was seen as an attempt to reconstruct society on the basis of abstract rational principles.
The conversion of agnostic High Tories to the Anglican church is always rather suspect. It seems too pat and predictable, too clearly a matter of politics rather than faith.
The German philosopher Walter Benjamin had the curious notion that we could change the past. For most of us, the past is fixed while the future is open.
The study of history and philosophy, accompanied by some acquaintance with art and literature, should be for lawyers and engineers as well as for those who study in arts faculties.
With fiction, you can talk about plot, character and narrative, whereas a poem brings home the fact that everything that happens in a work of literature happens in terms of language. And this is daunting stuff to deal with.