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Academic Freedom, Please

October 13, 2009


Today a member of the faculty told me that my proposal for a new course on how Jesus has changed over the centuries—as well as the social agenda each re-appropriation of his authority advances—might be offensive to some faculty members.

I was basically speechless. I mustered the following:

I’m so far from removed from whatever that perspective is; what would the complaint be?


It might be received as an attack on their deeply held faith.

Would anyone have said this if I were proposing a course on how the figure of the Buddha has been remade over and over again? No.

But that’s how Christian privilege works.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Vidya permalink
    October 14, 2009 12:13 am

    Wow. I guess questioning received knowledge and critiquing the historical construction of social phenomena are still not welcomed by some in religious studies. Brings back unfortunate memories of my own undergrad education…

    Sounds like a great course, though! (Off the top of my head, for an influential 20th-century Hindu appropriation of Jesus, check out Swami Prabhavananda’s The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta.)

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 14, 2009 7:19 am

    Thanks for the suggestion! I was planning on looking up a Hindu appropriation …

  3. October 14, 2009 10:47 am

    A Sri Lankan Buddhist lecturer once summed up certain Buddhist and Hindu approaches to appropriating Jesus as one divinity among many for me by shrugging and saying, “if you cannot beat them, treat them as subordinates.”

  4. October 14, 2009 5:51 pm

    Too effing bad if they’re offended. This is college for crying out loud. The purpose is for people to learn and to have assumptions challenged. As I’ve said many times before, we need to rid ourselves of this notion that “faith” cannot be challenged or criticized. Nothing else is put on such a pedestal, and the fact that “faith” is makes it dangerous.

  5. pawemo permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:56 pm

    I humbly submit that a large part of what makes such a class interesting at all is its potential to be, or to provide fuel for, such a challenge to a particular kind of deeply held faith. So the only surprising thing is to find that fellow faculty might feel attacked by it, right?

  6. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 14, 2009 8:00 pm

    Yes, the class WILL BE designed to challenge superficial ideas about Jesus. However, what’s frustrating is not that a possible faculty member might be bothered, but that he or she might feel justified in making a stink about it.

  7. Dr. Jim permalink
    October 16, 2009 10:59 am

    If students think they can get through 3 or 4 years of college or university without having their world views challenged in significant ways they are wasting their money. If an instructor thinks students should get their degrees without having their worldviews challenged the institution is wasting its money.

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