They shared an intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness

An academic – an atheist – who teaches religion at a university is finding the job less rewarding than it used to be, because the students have come over all dogmatic.

When I first started teaching in my current institution, a decade or so ago, I was impressed by the diversity of students in lectures. Lots were believers of one sort or another, but many others would describe themselves as atheists and agnostics.

Whatever they thought about religion, they shared an intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness that made teaching the best part of my job: they enjoyed being challenged in their assumptions, and they loved exploring the ways religions have shaped and been shaped by cultural, social and political shifts.

Most noticeable of all, students rarely expressed a need to proclaim or defend their own faith perspectives in lectures.

But that was then.

at my institution, the fee-paying culture has given rise to a predominantly white, economically-privileged, middle class student body, in which any diversity of religious or non-religious students has been overpowered by a particularly influential form of evangelical Christianity. It is a belief system that is uncomfortable with the academic study of religion, and which will often explicitly resist it.

Students’ membership of this society is flattening the dynamics of lectures. Buying into the current claim that Christians suffer persecution in the UK, many appear compelled to resist the academic critique of the traditions and texts they hold dear. Recently, a group of students in a lecture refused to undertake the work set because they didn’t want to apply postmodern perspectives to what for them was a sacred text.

A female colleague was accused of being “stupid” and “lacking authority” by those who believe a woman has no right to teach others about religious texts.

Other colleagues have been marked out as heretics in lectures. Of the students who remain outside this group – identifying as atheist, agnostic, Catholic or Jewish – a number have confided they feel intimidated or silenced by the louder, assertively evangelical students in the class.

I’m amazed. It sounds more like the US than the UK.

H/t Chris Lawson




  1. Jackie, all dressed in black says

    That sounds exactly like some of the classes I attended here in the states.

  2. says

    Unfortunately we do seem to be inheriting this from across the water along with that other previously exclusive Americanism known as the Creationist Zoo. But it is not only within Christianity that this is happening. Islam is making unnecessary demands too. Only time will tell whether it actually amounts to anything however. The last census here showed a fourteen per cent drop in those who identified as Christian from seventy three to fifty nine per cent. There are also less than five million Muslims in the United Kingdom out of a total population of sixty one million. However this is no reason for complacency. Fundamentalist or evangelical mindsets can operate perfectly well without without being in a position of numerical superiority

    I notice once again the mention of sacred texts. More nonsense except his time from Christians. There is no such thing as sacred now. The arrangements of particular symbols on pieces of paper is not sacred at all. For The Koran and The Bible are just books. Granted they are incredibly influential ones and worthy of academic study but sacred ? No way. The only time a book becomes that is because of its rarity and even then it would be wrong to attribute such a quality to it no matter how understandable that may be. The word one would be looking for in that scenario is expensive. Once you start labelling works of literature as sacred however that is when all the trouble starts. Nothing is sacred in point of fact. Everything can and should be exposed to critical rigour. And this applies especially so to religious works

  3. Claire Ramsey says

    The “Christians are victimized and oppressed” thread that runs through this is very disturbing. And it’s a twist of reality too. Careful analysis and questioning do not equal oppression. And a huge group of believers w/a lot of power is not victimized, no matter what they claim.

    Makes me want to slap people. . .

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the fee-paying culture has given rise to a predominantly white, economically-privileged, middle class student body…

    Somehow, this brings a picture of Margaret Thatcher to mind, smiling in posthumous success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *