Students as Junior Scholars of Religion
I heard that Stanly Fish used to tell incoming freshman, “You’ve always been told that the purpose of writing an essay is to express yourselves; however, you do not as yet have selves worth expressing.” There’s something to this idea!
One of my goals as a teacher in religious studies is to help students learn to see religious traditions from the perspective of academic scholars. In part, this means that their own personal “perspective” or their prior “experiences” aren’t really welcome in the course (except in marginal ways). They are in my class precisely because their personal perspective is probably inadequate for thinking critically about religious traditions; my goal is to give them a more sophisticated interpretive framework for evaluating our course’s content.
I remind them of this from time to time: “As an academic scholar of religion—and you are all junior scholars of religion for the purposes of our course—what might you say about x?” The purpose in framing questions in this way is that I want them not to think in terms of what they personally think, but to get them to put themselves in the shoes of a scholar. Similarly, many questions take the form of: “What would Marx say about x?” or “What would Bourdieu say about x?”
My course is not designed for them to achieve enlightenment or personal fulfillment, but for them to see the world from a scholarly perspective.