“I Shouldn’t Have to Say It!”

Picture 1Over the years I’ve found that the best way to illustrate what seems to be either complex or nuanced notions is to start with an easy example, maybe something students can identify with, perhaps a seemingly mundane or common instance, and then to build from there. The bonus of this method is that you also make evident that no item of culture is ever as simple as it may seem.

For example, consider teaching students about eusebia in ancient Greece, or pietas in ancient Rome — words thought to be synonymous with “religion” by rather sloppy, anachronistic translators — and how one’s status and identity then were closely tied to how evident it was to others that you knew how to navigate your place in the changeable world of social situations. (Question: has it really changed all that much today?) For that, I sometimes choose an episode from season five of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” especially from 11:20 onward, when it is more than apparent that, despite having nothing to do with what we today take for religion, Ray is, nonetheless, an impious son.

Sure, examples drawn from pop culture can date themselves rather quickly sometimes, but if we can’t figure out a way to use a popular TV show from 2001 to teach something from daily life over 2,000 years ago, then I’m not sure what examples we can use.

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