Monday, 17 February 2014

The poisoning of academic study of religion

From the Guardian Higher Ed., via Ophelia:

Teaching religion: my students are trying to run my course

The author is an anonymous atheist academic at a major UK university. Excerpt:

[At] my institution, the fee-paying culture has given rise to a predominantly white, economically-privileged, middle class student body, in which any diversity of religious or non-religious students has been overpowered by a particularly influential form of evangelical Christianity. It is a belief system that is uncomfortable with the academic study of religion, and which will often explicitly resist it.

Students' membership of this society is flattening the dynamics of lectures. Buying into the current claim that Christians suffer persecution in the UK, many appear compelled to resist the academic critique of the traditions and texts they hold dear. Recently, a group of students in a lecture refused to undertake the work set because they didn't want to apply postmodern perspectives to what for them was a sacred text.

A female colleague was accused of being "stupid" and "lacking authority" by those who believe a woman has no right to teach others about religious texts.

Other colleagues have been marked out as heretics in lectures. Of the students who remain outside this group – identifying as atheist, agnostic, Catholic or Jewish – a number have confided they feel intimidated or silenced by the louder, assertively evangelical students in the class.

Academic rigour, research-inspired teaching and independent, critical thinking are the hallmarks of today's university culture. And yet many of us have found ourselves diluting or softening the topics of our modules, and the intellectual and critical content of our lectures, for fear of poor student feedback (which is carefully monitored by the university). And to take account of the personal preferences of our evangelical students.