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Choosing a Religion

September 29, 2010

For some reason I found this to be very funny:


On Colbert

September 25, 2010

Stephen Colbert recently testified before congress:

Many of my friends loved this. I, for one, don’t get the excitement. Colbert wants “illegal immigrants” to be able to legally work in the US. And we’re supposed to think this is a good idea?

Let’s draw out what is unstated here: We need someone to work for below minimum wage. If we paid a living wage to bean-pickers, the cost of beans would rise, and we can’t have that. So we need to sustain the system of exploitative labor practices. Since “Americans” won’t work for next to no pay, we’ll have to use illegal immigrants for (almost) slave labor. Let them in and sign them up! Otherwise those those tomatoes will double in cost!

Religion and Art Appreciation

September 21, 2010

I think some students expect a religion class to be like an art appreciation class—some of them seem to think that what I’ll do is expose them to a lot of beautiful things that I’ll try to get them to appreciate by the end of the term.

Of course this is not what I do, and I’m of the opinion that the “appreciation” model is not pedagogically sound. What legitimate academic goal would it serve? I can see how it might be integrated into a liberal “can’t we all just get along” normative pedagogy, but that approach tends to be intolerably at odds with academic rigor (see “Our ‘Special Promise’ as Teachers” in Russell McCutcheon’s Critics Not Caretakers for why that approach might be problematic).

In the Swing of Things

September 21, 2010

Now that the semester is humming along and I’m in the swing of things, I’m looking forward to lecturing each day. I teach in half an hour, and I can’t wait to get in there and talk about the New Testament. I’m such a friggin’ nerd. But I suppose being excited about teaching is better than having it stress me out. Thank the gods for anxiety medication.

I’m not so excited about the pile of papers to grade.

Unteaching Student (Mis)Conceptions

September 15, 2010

I just finished reading Tim Murphy’s essay, “Cultural Understandings of ‘Religion’: The Hermeneutical Context of Teaching Religious Studies in North America.” In this article, Murphy considers why it is that we have such a difficult time teaching our students “theory” in religious studies classes. Some of the reasons or explanations include:

  1. Our teaching requires unteaching or unraveling their existing and deep-seated ideas or conceptions of “religion.”
  2. The existing education system leans toward “utilitarian and positivistic” approaches “not disposed to thinking very highly of conceptual analysis.” To put it another way, people tend to have a “just the facts, ma’am” way of thinking about religion.
  3. Learning theory is like learning a new language—it takes years of “practice” to get it right. Murphy quotes Best and Connolly: learning theory “is like learning a foreign language with no one else to talk to and no certainty of ever reaching the country where people do talk that way.” In addition, “When journalists, television commentators, educators, and politicians persist in interpreting the issues of political economy [or ‘religion’ in our case] through conventional categories, the task is even more difficult.”
  4. This is all exacerbated by the fact that many professors aren’t adequately trained in theory, and when they are, it is introduced in the undergraduate curriculum only sparsely—for instance in a single “theory and method” course or a senior seminar.

I’ll leave you with a great quote. Murphy considers the fact that students tend to slot new knowledge or new information into their existing conceptual scheme or taxonomies:

By projecting their own cultural understanding onto those of others, our students, and their cultural cohorts, misunderstand these “others,” misunderstand otherness in general. The consequence is clear: to teach religion effectively we must teach against this taxonomy [i.e., the superficially binary taxonomy between “religion” and its others—such as “spirituality,” “politics,” etc.]. Given the degree to which this taxonomy is both an expression of, and embedded within, bourgeois civilization’s self-understanding, in order to teach religion effectively, we cannot help to teach against this civilization’s self-understanding.

It’s a good essay, and I encourage you to check it out, especially the section titled “Everything you know is wrong.”

You Need to Earn the Right to an Opinion

September 15, 2010

This is a bit of a rant, so take it for what it’s worth.

Students, you don’t yet have the right to an “opinion” in this course. You don’t have enough knowledge on the basis of which you could even form an opinion. Presently, you don’t have an opinion; you have an emotional response, and that’s not the same thing. I want you to internalize a scholarly hermeneutic; once you have then you will be permitted to share an opinion on the course content. Until then, shut up.

As Stanley Fish once said, you’ve been told all your life that the purpose of an essay is for you to express yourselves. However, you do not as yet have selves worth expressing.

I feel a little bit better now.


September 15, 2010

How many cliches can a student fit into a single page?

  1. People should be open-minded.
  2. There is no right or wrong when it comes to religion.
  3. People can choose for themselves what they want to believe.
  4. America is the land of complete religious freedom.
  5. Religion is divisive when it enters politics.
  6. Good religion goes bad when it is used to manipulate people.
  7. Narrow-minded fundamentalists are those people who really believe in their religion.
  8. People are arrogant when they believe their religion is the right one.

Eight. Apparently a student can fit eight cliches into one page.

Don’t you love how ze moves from “people shouldn’t be judgmental” to an obviously judgmental rhetoric? None of these cliches are useful for thinking critically about religion.