In some of our courses faculty in the department focus on the problem of definition in the study of religion — what counts as a religion (more importantly, for whom) and what are the practical implications of distinguishing a this from a that.
They also often talk about the broad relevance of the skills that students acquire in the Humanities.
So I had all this in mind while listening to a story on National Public Radio this morning, on making sense of a Rutgers University sexual assault survey. It struck me that our students could have been of real help if the designers had conferred with them a bit about the implications of definition prior to designing and administering their survey.
For if you’re trying to lessen the number of such assaults, and increase the likelihood that victims will report them, then the parameters of what counts as a sexual assault are something worth thinking about — and that seems to me to be a pretty good example of how the skills taught in our course have practical impact far outside our classrooms.
Listen to the news story here — the issue of definition becomes more apparent toward its end.