Papa Don’t Preach

preachingIn an article today, entitled “No Right to Preach,” Inside Higher Ed reports:

While the First Amendment provides faculty members at public colleges and universities with considerable latitude about what they may say, a federal judge has ruled it does not restrict a state university from cautioning professors against making statements that favor one religion or another, and that may seem to insult the religious views of some students.

Judge Keith Starrett ruled that Thomas Payne did not have a First Amendment claim against the University of Southern Mississippi over statements he made about his Christian faith. Payne said that the university retaliated against him — in failing to promote him and in negative performance reviews — based on his speaking out about his faith.

Suddenly the case recently made in India against Wendy Doniger’s work does not look so distant and foreign, perhaps?

So just what are the implications for the academic study of religion with rulings such as these being made? What does it mean to “insult” someone’s religious views? And will once popular notions such as “methodological agnosticism” (whereby the tools, i.e., methods, that you use avoid making pro or con statements about the truth or legitimacy of the object of study) make a return to our field?

Read the judgement here.

7 thoughts on “Papa Don’t Preach

  1. The simple answer is that this judgment, made by one federal judge from God knows what district, has no implications for the study religion. But it does have tremendous implications for our politics. And that is where the attention of those who are concerned about this sort of thing should direct their energies. The same would go for the case of Wendy’s book in India, of course, by Indian academics.

    So, if I may add as a kind of appendix, the Implications for the study religion are that our politics and the academic study religion are in many cases quite different things.

  2. I’ve spilled a fair bit of ink over the years arguing that inasmuch as one uses the category religion to name a distinct aspect of human nature/action/organization–whether to celebrate it or explain it–one is reproducing a very particular politics and having practical effect on the world. That you aren’t convinced of these arguments has long been clear, Ivan, but my position does suggest that your matter of fact statements need a fair bit of qualification, for there are those who would disagree with your neat distinction between “our politics and the academic study religion.”

    • Dear Russell,

      I do not disagree with you that the notion of religion pictures by many reps most of all, question scholars has historical roots in Western civilization.

      But, just because one uses the word “religion”, does not mean one continues to use that old liberal Protestant derived notion/category of religion. It might well be so, but it also might not. We need to look at how people actually use their terms, not assume just because they and their families originate in a certain part of the world that they replicate certain ways of thinking.

      Furthermore, just because one uses the word religion, does not mean that one is using it in the old liberal Protestant way as denoting autonomy. The notion of religion may evolve — just has all our culturally derived language does.. Consider terms like “art” or “politics”, for example. Do you really think that these words have had the same meaning throughout the history of the West? Yes, we continue to use them. And we continue to use them profitably with fruitful results. Moreover people in other parts of the world have adopted some of our language — just as we have adopted some of theirs e.g. Algebra

      I have argued this point in the present discussion again and again but with no response from you. I at least address your arguments and ideas, but I do not feel frankly that you even engage mine.

  3. Note correction in first paragraph. Siri let me down, It should have read

    ” I do not disagree with you that the notion of religion as used by many and perhaps most scholars of religion in the west has historical roots in Western civilization.”

  4. Ivan, while I don’t see comments on my Department’s blog as the best place to duke this out, I’ll simply say that, as I recall, I published an entire essay in JAAR directly tackling pretty much all that you had said up to then on how problematic my work is and I do not recall you engaging that essay whatsoever, so drop the impression that I somehow ignore you. Thus I have little to add since then. Second, I have argued in rather considerable detail concerning the effects I believe the category entails regardless how one defines it–so long as it is used to name something seemingly substantive or distinct in the human heart or genes or history or…, whatever, so your allusion to others using it in a way different from the so-called liberal Protestant model entirely misses the point of my critique. E.g., on a variety of occasions (such as another entire essay in JAAR that, again, seems to have evoked no response from anyone) I have argued that cognitivists, in using the term as they do (which is very different from that so-called liberal Protestant use, I think you would agree) are nonetheless letting sui generis religion in through the back door and there are social consequences to their use that go unrecognized, I believe (unrecognized because many scholars likely agree with them). The category is thus used to name social situations that strike one as a problem–either to promote them in the face of perceived opposition or, as is the case amnong many scholars, to manage and control them, either to advance a social agenda or curtail one. It thus does not name an object that can be studied but, instead, naturalizes interests social actors are trying to operationalize in the world by coalescing, in discrete situations, for discrete purposes, a region of human doings, portraying it as having motive force, as something to derail or advance… Liberal Protestants are hardly the only people doing this–it is therefore a handy term for those who wish the world to be different than it is–whether so-called secularists, so-called fundamentalists, political scientists, pollsters, politicians, tax collectors, revolutionaries, etc., etc.

  5. Brief immediate reply. There enough. Please refer me to the JAAAR article to which you referred in your opening paragraph.

    On the cognitivists, I think we are mostly on the same page. But more of that later

    . Thank you.

  6. Brief immediate reply. There enough. Please refer me to the JAAAR article to which you referred in your opening paragraph.

    On the cognitivists, I think we are mostly on the same page. But more of that later

    . Thank you.

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