Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Public space and religion, Part II

As a broadening of my discussion in this post a while back, I'd like to refer you to
this post by Steve Shriffen over at Left2Right. In an argument that runs parallel to Jim Wallis' in God's Politics, Shriffen argues that universities, both public and private, create ignorance of religion and religious ideas by not more fully integrating discussions of these issues into university's academic and intellectual discourse. Hence, there arises a de facto institutionalized ignorace of these matters and, among at least some products of the university, a combination of sneering at and fear of those who happen to be believers and see their beliefs as intersecting in many and crucial ways with matters of law and domestic and foreign policy.
I can't add anything to it except to say that universities should both study public spaces of all sorts and, in truly democratic and pluralistic societies, facilitate the development of vigorous and healthy public spaces--of which, of course, they themselves are a part.

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jennifer said...

Perhaps, maybe just maybe, university curriculumns are still adhering to the mythic seperation of church and state?

Plenty of private universities base themselves in religious principles, from Buddhist to esoteric to Christian and back again. Plenty of public universities offer courses that integrate and incorporate theology from courses in "ethics" to the "bible as literature" to courses on atheism and agnosticism.
I'm not really seeing or buying this argument. The only thing I can see lacking in the University curriculumn (at least at my university) as the encouragement of students and faculty to freely apply critical analysis to the influence religion and religious institutions have on policy matters and for that matter, institutional practices. Then again, I've sat and "witnessed" the uncomfortable silences and ugly arguments made by people who felt the need to "defend their faith" or "religious convictions" from "liberal" attack. Can you imagine for a moment unpacking Seymour Hersh's argument (from truthout) that "we've been taken over by a cult" in one of YOUR college classes? One of my profs is fond is arguing that here in America we have freedom OF religion not FROM religion and
I think he's quite correct on that. I'd love to sit in a course that actually examines atheism and the "conservative" backlash that has followed every remotely progressive movement in U.S. history or global history for that matter. Religion appears to be the one "private space" that becomes increasingly and unbearably public the very moment criticism is applied to it. To my mind the only other private space that is continuously subjected to such a severity of being made public is the body, particularly the bodies of any OTHERED group and this is based in control and power. Wouldn't it be interesting to study the way that religion has been used to keep people in certain socioeconomic spaces or privilege specific races over another (which of course, keeps people in those less desirable socioeconomic spaces)? Likewise,
I think it equally prudent to analyze the ways in which religion has served to not only bring people together in worship but also social change. I think I may've gone way off your topic so I'll quit rambling now. peace!

René López Villamar said...

Just to add a little international perspective, the problem that you comment on is not privy only to the U.S. Here in Mexico most universities can be easily divided into private-catholic, and public (and slightly Marxist) ones. I studied engineering in a private school, and I am currently studying Hispanic Lit. in a public one.
Our Spanish Golden Century teacher often has a lot of trouble explaining concepts relating to the era because most of the student population is staunchly atheistic and ignores common facts about the catholic dogma that are necessary to understand the poetry of that age and place. It is the same problem with medieval studies and the Muslim faith. Knowledge about religious issues is not only about communication and understanding, but also about Culture with capital C; and people that are ‘denied’ the possibility to know about religious matters are shutting similar doors to the ones knowing a second language gives you.

The separation between church and state is a very hot issue in my country, we had our wars about it, and it’s a matter of debate everyday in the papers. And this is coming form a country which, at least by the last census, is 90%+ catholic. Still, the main public teaching centers enforce fiercely the doctrine of separation between State and Religion, to the above described results. A good education, in any country, should include matters of faith and religion, at least with the same respect given to Philosophy and Physics.

Alex said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I'm working on some more adventures but my "muse" isn't "amusing" at the moment.