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Does Orsi Say Anything of Substance?

February 19, 2010

I think Robert Orsi (who is recognized generally as a leading scholar in religious studies) says very little of substance in this piece. What do you think?

As a Marxist, I’m all for thinking about working class views and experiences. But Orsi says extremely little about how or why, and he leaves me wondering if he thinks they should be privileged as intrinsically valuable.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. tom c. permalink
    February 21, 2010 12:50 pm

    I can’t really interpret Orsi’s standpoint in the piece. That said, I am thinking the title of the essay should have been something like “interrupting theorizing” (though perhaps more gracefully phrased). It’s not clear to me that he’s advocating theorizing closer to home so much as questioning the project of theorizing itself. Maybe what substance there is in the piece comes in showing Orsi’s (personal) dissatisfaction with theorizing; maybe the piece is more declarative than argumentative.

    I currently teach at an institution with mostly first generation college students, many of which have working class backgrounds. This is anecdotal, but I have found that these students tend to identify with labels such as “middle class” or “blue collar” (and not “working class”). Their politics lean Republican (in this otherwise largely Blue state), and many of them have family in the military. (Rough generalizations, I know.) This isn’t to say that I think their standpoints should be privileged (insofar as we are in the business of teaching critical thinking). But I do think that liberal faculty, such as myself, frequently fail to understand where students like these are coming from. For example, when I teach the ethics of war, I try to keep this knowledge close to me.

  2. S. G. permalink
    February 21, 2010 1:10 pm

    Should you look for “substance” in an alumni magazine? I don’t know anything about Robert Orsi or his work, but that said, it looks like he has you in mind: “Marxist” theory is entirely built around the concept of the working class as intrinsically valuable to understanding history, yet you who call yourself a Marxist do not see any reason for this. That’s crazy, and his point.

  3. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 21, 2010 1:23 pm

    Tom, I have a similar institutional situation, and I too have to keep in mind the situation of the students when they come into my classes.

    S.G., I can think of lots of reasons to take working class views into account (and I do, in fact) when thinking about history and social systems, but those reasons don’t entail privileging those views. I have a lot of experience with working class family members who are extremely sexist, xenophobic, and sometimes racist. It is not at all crazy for me to resist privileging their views of the world as intrinsically valuable, correct, true, etc.

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