Monday, August 25, 2014

10 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Religion, by Martyn Oliver

I found this article compelling and quite spot-on.  A pretty good justification for religious studies.  I would, probably, go further and say that we also need to teach theology (especially in Independent Schools, and certainly in Episcopal Schools).

A thoughtful piece.

Chaplain Carey




10 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Religion 

I love teaching students about religion. But we’d go deeper and further every semester if everyone understood these 10 basic ideas.

By Martyn Oliver
At FaithStreet

I'm about to take 100+ college students through their first course on religion, as I do every semester. Here’s what I wish they knew coming in (and, what I wish I’d known myself as an undergrad):

1. You don’t know what a “religion” is.

We tend to think of religion in terms of our own experiences with our own traditions. But religion is a slippery word. Did you know, for example, that the United States Armed Forces counts both Buddhism and Atheism as “religions”? Would your definition be wide enough to include them? Probably, because most of us agree that religions are sets of beliefs and practices shared by a community (and note: we can leave belief in a god out of the equation). But then, if you expand your definition just a little bit, Red Sox Nation or ComicCon cosplay start to look awfully “religious.” Are we cool with that?
As you study religion, your definition of it may get bigger, weirder, more slippery. I argue that the category of “religion” ought to remain a contested space, and what we hold to be elemental about our own tradition is not necessarily so for others.

2. History will screw with your beliefs.

Caesar did not call for a census that drove Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem — it just didn’t happen, despite what the Gospel of Luke says. Also, Buddhists have often been perpetrators of astounding violence, not only in contemporary Myanmar, but also in Japan, Tibet, and Thailand — peace, compassion, and mindfulness be damned. Religions tend to rewrite history, and the sooner we can come to terms with the discrepancies, fabrications, or willful ignorance of religious traditions, the better.
Just like it’s uncomfortable to confront the fact that slaves built the U.S. Capitol Building or that American settlers committed genocide against the Native People, the history of any religion forces us to grapple with the ugly realities of ourselves. This isn’t your professor being anti-Christian or anti-Buddhist — it’s just historical information. What you do with that information, however, matters. History doesn’t ask you to throw away a faith or dismiss religion altogether. Nor should it make you distrust academia for disseminating some nefarious agenda. Instead, at its best, history can help us ask how we make the future better.

3. If you call yourself religious, you might want to know something about your own tradition.

Some passing familiarity with the texts and traditions you hold sacred would be great. Some understanding of what makes your religion or sect different from religions a lot like yours would be wonderful. I’m not asking for the ability to cite scriptures chapter and verse, nor to explain John Wesley’s break from the Anglicans and the Moravians. But a general awareness about what one believes — and why, and why not — would be super helpful.
Too often, in intro courses, adherents of, say, Lutheranism, think they can skate through the Christianity unit, failing to recognize that Lutheranism and Christianity are not the same thing. Unfortunately, students usually have institutions and parents who do not foster a sense of consciousness about the peculiarities of their position. Once students recognize this, disenchantment often begins. That is never a professor’s intent, but students would be bettered fortified if they understood their tradition as having developed in particular ways and for particular reasons.
And if you can differentiate the Sermon on the Mount from the Ten Commandments, all the better.

4. All religions are not the same.

This issue is so critical that one of my mentors wrote a book about it. Different religions make different claims to truth, and the exclusivity of those claims matters. Students tend to accept and defer to pluralism without considering how they might be running roughshod over the claims of their own traditions. This is a good thing for civil society, but a problematic thing when it comes to explaining tensions between religions.
I spend weeks working to help people realize that while their neighbors’ faith may not (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson) pick their pocket nor break their leg, it does seriously impinge upon assertions that one group of people is chosen and another is not. This matters. If it doesn’t, then you’ve sacrificed a part of your beliefs upon the altar of good manners. Not that I’m against manners, but we should know the consequences of our bargains.

5. Religions have good reasons for what they teach, do, and believe.

It might seem crazy to make offerings to a god with an elephant’s head, but only if you’re not familiar with Ganesha’s story and the obstacles he overcame to become who he is. From someone else’s perspective, it can appear equally nuts to worship a guy who managed to get himself arrested, beaten, and executed: what’s so great about martyrdom? Isn’t that rationalizing failure?
Read the rest HERE

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