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