Textbook chart from Nursing: A Concept Based Approach to Learning, published (then withdrawn) by Pearson
As the AAR presents its newly drafted Religious Literacy Guidelines, Sierra Lawson (BA ’17, MA ’19) and Prof. Steven Ramey return to their research on the implications of classification to raise important questions about the politics and consequences of such a framing.
Religious literacy, which typically refers to knowledge about religions, differences between religions, and diversity within each religion, can reinforce problematic claims about social groups (as evident in the chart reproduced above). Useful knowledge can easily become harmful, especially when it tends towards selective generalizations and ignores the issue of who is doing the talking.
I’ve written on the parable of the blind men and the elephant before, as far back as Manufacturing Religion (1997), where I argued:
The problem with the story of the blind men … is that the level of the narrative open to the listener is characterized by privileged access to the fact that there is indeed an elephant beyond the individual perceptions of the blind men…. [T]he story works only because, from the outset, we as listeners see the big picture; we know that the men are blind, deluded, partial, or whatever else the metaphor of blindness communicates to us. We know the secret and so we “get it”: “Aha, it’s really an elephant and they don’t know it!” (p. 110)
This news story reminded me of teaching long ago, and trying to persuade students that “God” was not necessarily a generic, cross-cultural, trans-historical term but, instead, usually carried with it (as do all words) a specific baggage (e.g., the Christian doctrine of trinity, the role of Jesus, specific ideas of heaven and salvation, the bible, etc.) — an argument not that different from trying to persuade students that “man” is not necessarily a universal designator for all human beings (i.e., introducing them to the issue of gender inclusive language). Continue reading →
Interested in a frank discussion of race, identity, and some implications for university campuses interested in diversity among students and faculty? Then consider this clip that our inaugural Zach Day lecturer, Prof. Monica Miller, posted earlier today on Facebook, featuring Prof. Yaba Blay, of Drexel University, and the author of (1)ne Drop: