Religion 100

Like my buddies here at FPR, I’ve been thinking about the intersection of LDS life and biblical or religious scholarship.  For my part, I want to call your attention to three incidents that I think intersect at a significant point:  

–Jan Shipps’ quip to the effect that one wonders if LDS scholars “know how to operate in the professional world.” (Deseret Morning News, 21 Jun 2005) 

–a young man who implicitly suggested that the rest of Christianity was “lost and confused” without the Book of Mormon  

–a general practice of demonizing non-LDS Biblical or religious scholarship by using the expression “scholars say…” followed by some scary tidbit that is accurate but by no means reflects either consensus or  the range of current opinion 

I am going to ask that you trust me that the last two things occurred.  My argument does not depend on the details, so your discrete lack of curiosity will help preserve both privacy and dignity. 

What these three scenarios have in common is that the subject of each is in some fashion unable to deal productively with what might be called the religious other.  Why is this so?

 

Although I am quite sure that I do not have The Answer, I want to offer up a couple of thoughts.  First, I’ve been looking at how various schools teach religion and the Bible as part of my own professional development.  Let’s take a look at Georgetown.  They require four semesters from their undergraduates, two of philosophy and two of theology: 

Georgetown University, with its commitment to the Jesuit tradition, believes that modern men and women should reflect upon their relationship to the world, their fellow humans, and God.  All students must take a year of philosophy and a year of theology.   The Problem of God (Theo-001) and one intermediate-level theology elective fulfill the theology requirement.  Introduction to the Biblical Literature (Theo-011) may be substituted for Problem of God or may be used as an intermediate-level elective.  

Notice that requirement to “reflect upon their relationship” to God, the world, and the rest of mankind?  Now here’s the course description for the two courses with a religious focus: 

Theo-001: An examination of the religious dimension of human experience and consciousness in relation to a number of problems and challenges: the problem of knowledge; the relation of faith and reason; various historical, social and existential determinants of belief; the challenge of atheism and humanism; the impact of secularization on religion. 

Theo-011: An introductory study of 1) the books of the Bible, 2) the history of Ancient Israel and first-century Christianity, and 3) the process of formation and transmission of the faith traditions coming to literary expression in the biblical literature.  

Topics like “faith and reason,” or “determinants of belief” or the “impact of secularization on religion” are the sorts of things that help students come to grips with the fact that there are a variety of ways of approaching religion and religious literature.  I have no idea how successful the execution might be, but the potential is there to produce an enviable maturation process in young Catholics and others who attend Georgetown. 

Now let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum.  Here’s a news article from Baylor University’s student newspaper announcing a change in their undergraduate requirements.  Baylor is associated with the Baptists.  The date of the article is 2002:

In general, next year’s incoming freshmen will still have to take six hours of religion courses, but they will be in two newly created courses: Religion 1310, The Christian Scriptures, and Religion 1350, The Christian Heritage…  

The Christian Scriptures course will lump both the New and Old Testaments into one course. Dr. Joel Burnett, assistant professor of religion, said there were both advantages and disadvantages to this change…. 

The second course, The Christian Heritage, will look at some of the history that brought the religion to where it is today. ‘We’ve realized over the years that students from Christian traditions don’t have any idea where their beliefs came from,’Dr. Rosalie Beck, associate professor of religion, said. ‘In [this course] they’ll have a chance to see how their denominations came into existence and how the different doctrines developed.’  

Dr. Naymond Keathley, the director for undergraduate studies for the religion department said the new combination would give students a more in-depth understanding of Christianity. ‘Christianity as we know it is certainly more than just the Bible,’ Keathley said. ‘We think for a student to be well rounded, they need to be exposed to these other areas.’

Notice how Baylor is likewise concerned that their students know their place within the larger world of Christianity.  Like the Jesuits of Georgetown, Baylor’s rationale is also couched in language that suggests that an understanding of “the other” is a part of religious maturity.  Once again, I’m not sure how the execution works out but there is potential for both self-understanding and a more sympathetic approach to “the other.”

Now if I were to pull out a third set of undergraduate religion requirements from another school, I am sure that you already know where it would come from.  Suffice it to say that there’s a difference.  And that while there are courses that do teach about other religions and religious experiences, they are found in the secular side of the academy rather than the religious.  Is there any institutionalized attempt to show that dealing tolerantly with the wider world of religion is part of the LDS religious lifestyle?

Is this important?  Do young LDS students need to be explicitly exposed to the idea that sane people can make other religious choices?  And that they must deal productively with others, even when it comes to religion and religious literature?

I think so.  As Mormons, we have been raised on the Book of Mormon. Reflect with me for a moment on how the BoM handles dealing with folks who don’t share the religious values and viewpoints of the implied author.  I think there are three, and only three, major paradigms.  You can kill them, convert them, or hope they don’t bother you.   Although the BoM clearly prefers Plan B, none of these three will really work when it comes to life as an LDS scholar.

Another staple of the LDS world view are two concepts that deal specifically with how religious pluralism came about.  These are the great apostasy and the great and abominable church.  Simply put, neither of these is appropriate in a situation of religious pluralism, let alone a professional venue, except when we are involved in explaining ourselves.  Under the latter conditions, I would rather gnaw my own tongue than say or hear said the words “great and abominable church.”

Perhaps I am wrong.  Does the BoM have a fourth paradigm that I don’t remember and/or that we’ve simply not emphasized?  Are there ways of approaching the great apostasy and the corruption of scripture that do give room for a respectful approach to religious pluralism?  What other factors in the wider LDS lifestyle are there which contribute to insensitivity, religious ignorance, and arrogance?  

My thought is that we could use a “Religion 100” course.  The requirement to prepare to interact positively and productively with others is simply one facet of such a course.  Perhaps we can discuss what such a course might consist of on some other occasion.  For the moment though, I agree with my fellows.   We really need to spend some time thinking about who and what we are.

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49 Comments

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49 responses to “Religion 100

  1. TT

    Mogget,
    This is really an excellent discussion of the issues. I would love to hear more about this research project as it develops too.

    Of the many questions that you have posed, let me just jump on one issue quickly to put forward a counter argument that is often given: Latter-day Saints who attend BYU and learn from the religion department there are much more likely to remain active in the church throughout their lives than their Catholic or Baptist counterparts at places like Georgetown or Baylor. What do you make of a claim like this? Should Georgetown and Baylor be learning from BYU? Are the goals ultimately so different (critical engagement vs production of faithful members) as to be comparing apples and oranges? How does the church’s obligation to the latter goal intersect with the former goal that should be the role of colleges?

  2. Matt W.

    Jan Shipps’ quip to the effect that one wonders if LDS scholars “know how to operate in the professional world.”

    My Favorite part about this is that most people I know don’t consider any acedemia part of the “professional world”

  3. Matt W.

    I should add that this concept comes from the idea of “Those who can, do, Those who can’t, teach.” A common addage in the business world…

  4. TT

    most people I know don’t consider any acedemia part of the “professional world”

    I am not quite sure what your insults here have to do with anything related to this post, but it should be noted that if what you say is true, most of the people you know are probably dumb.

  5. Julie M. Smith

    There is an Institute/CES/BYU Religion class on world religions. I am sure that the tone of the class varies greatly according to the teacher, but here it is pulled of with grace and real skill. (Not by me–but by a PhD candidate in ANE at UT.) Is the issue simply that this class isn’t required (I don’t think?) by the Y?

  6. HP

    When taught at the Y, my general impression is that the World Religions class is taught in the follow manner: why other religions are nice, but not as true as the Gospel.

    My impression of this comes from the book that they used to use, not from taking the class itself.

  7. HP

    I think that Matt’s intent was simply that there is a perceived divide between the “academic” and the “business” world. Both groups like to refer to themselves as professionals, but perhaps our business friends feel like their professionalism is higher because the revenues they generate are immediately visible. In this thinking (which I am not attributing to Matt), academics are parasitic (setting any self-reflection regarding where product is actually produced, of course (after all, most executives do as much physical work for their pay as I do)).

  8. Matt W.

    TT, sorry, didn’t realize you were so sensitive. It was not my intent to insult.

  9. “I am not quite sure what your insults here have to do with anything related to this post”

    The answer is simple. The question posed by this post is irrelavant beyond a small, insular, and self-important cross section of America called acedemia. Jan Shipps is part of that world and so her statement cannot really be taken seriously.

    To answer the question more directly; I think there is a difference between showing tolerance and taking the attributes of others. We are asked to live in this world, but not be part of it. It seems too many forget that the second half is in as full force as the first. As LDS we are asked to teach and not to be taught. True, we can only teach what we learn and part of that is becoming familiar with everything from the depths to the hights. Ultimately, however, that isn’t to gain a different perspective, but to increase the perspective we already have as members of the faith.

    I would ask the question differently. If LDS do not hold to the second and third statement, do they really understand why there was a need for a Restoration brought forth by Revelation and not book learning?

  10. TT

    Thanks Matt! I guess I didn’t realize I was so sensitive either! Let’s get back to the content of the post.

  11. Roland Deschain

    Mogget,
    I hope you get hired to teach the Religion 100 course at the Y. It is my sense (correct me if I’m wrong) that at BYU students are offered Mormon indoctrination (and I don’t use that word necessarily accompanied by ominous music); at Georgetown, they offer their students paradigms for thinking about religion and God.

  12. Matt W.

    HP, thanks for being nice, and you are pretty much right on. I guess I was just really trying to say that even as Jan Shipps disses the people at BYU, there are people dissing her too. It’s all just a matter of perspective, I guess.

    Personally, I think BYU has an obligation to teach it’s required religion classes via a faithful LDS lense, even it’s world religion classes. The LDS religion is not the Baptist Religion or the Jesuit branch of the Catholic religion. How about looking at Notre Dame, or an SDA college, or a JW college, if there is one…?

  13. Roland Deschain

    The question posed by this post is irrelavant beyond a small, insular, and self-important cross section of America called acedemia. Jan Shipps is part of that world and so her statement cannot really be taken seriously.

    No way, jettboy. The comment Jan Shipps made was about some less than professional antics at the Josephs Smith seminar at the Library of Congress. It seems that seminar was deliberately held in DC and not BYU in order to foster a sense of professionalism. But once that decision had been made by BYU and the church (to aim for academic credibility), still some participants couldn’t help but preach and bear testimony. It was painful to watch.

  14. Mark IV

    …a small, insular, and self-important cross section of America called acedemia…

    Jettboy, Gordon B. Hinckley must live there, because he is constantly advising us to be on better terms with those who do not share our beliefs. I think we do a horrible job of relating to other faiths in a productive way. If you reject Mogget’s analysis, could you please suggest a different one? Is it really asking all that much that we develop some respect for others?

  15. smallaxe

    I think the world religions course at the Y is generally as HP says–the required curriculum is world religion seen more or less as having the light of Christ but not The Truth. At the same time I understand that there is some flexibility in teaching the course. As was pointed out to me by one professor who teaches it, “They more or less anticipate you teaching ‘false doctrine’, so you are actually open to discuss a lot of things.” This comment in itself is interesting–on the one hand the perception of the other as “false doctrine” still holds some weight in some circles (although I am not implying any circle in particular), but on the other, there is a desire to challenge students perception of this “other”. Noticeably missing from the two Universities’ mentioned above is a course on world religion (although the Baylor article only mentions two of the six classes students are required to take). IMO it is still too narrow a notion of what “religion” or “religious education” could be conceived as.

    I think a class like the dimensions of religious experiences mentioned above and a well-taught religious traditions of the world class should be required as part of Mormon higher religious education (classes in the standard works, of course, are given).

    All of this of course may not answer the issues Mogget is pointing toward, as far as how we actually teach this stuff…

    TT also raises an important issue in regards to the goal of religious education.

  16. HP

    Furthermore Jettboy, the idea that the LDS are here “to teach and not to be taught” is frankly rather prideful. It implies that people who aren’t LDS can’t come up with anything interesting and helpful.

    The question is: Can we learn to operate as equals with members of other faiths? Your answer seems to be: of course not, because we are inherently superior to members of other faiths. If you believe that should be the standard answer, then the answer to the first question will obviously be “no.”

  17. Doc

    Actually Mogget there is an interesting look at the treatment of outsiders in a pluralistic sort of society in Alma chapter 1.
    This is the whole Nehor incident, which in itself, with God striking people dumb and cursing them after the prophet reads their mind that they don’t believe anything they say is probably not what you are going for here. Conveniently, Nehor murdered a man, so this crime enabled the priestcraft problem to be dealt with. But intertwined in the story is an interesting look and Church and national legal practice.

    First it expressly says that the law can have no hold upon a man for his belief and then explains

    Alma 1:21-22
    21 Now there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be no persecution among themselves.
    22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

    Now this is not a map to engaging those with other beliefs but it is an insistence at least on civility, and calls those who contend with “adversaries” out on the carpet for being stricken with pride. To me, it clearly points out that those who feel certain others are wrong and ridicule or deride what they hold sacred are full of pride and in need of repentance. This should absolutely be emphasized.

    The very existence of this practice and law says something about the people’s priorities. Unfortunately, we just don’t get a lot of detail about the conflicts or ways of coming to live pluralistically. I think we need to work it out for ourselves.

  18. HP

    Matt,
    It seems to me that one could teach the class neutrally without shattering testimonies. It would give students the opportunity to come to their own conclusions regarding the relative worth of various doctrines found in other faiths. It also avoids the trap of seeing all the rest of the world’s religions as bastaradized Christianity.

    I don’t know about most places, but I would imagine that a world religions course taught at Notre Dame would give those religions an opportunity to present their own beliefs (to the best degree possible) rather than turning it into a discussion of the superiority of Catholicism in every case. That said, Chatholicism is generally more open to scholarly approaches than Evangelical Protestantism anyhoo.

  19. “great and abominable”

    I love this phrase, and apply it to everything possible: Great and abominable snowman. Great and abominable dinner. Great and abominable pile of laundry, and so on.

    Does the BoM have a fourth paradigm that I don’t remember and/or that we’ve simply not emphasized?

    Well, the Jaredites self-destructed in a war of total self-annihilation, so perhaps that is a fourth alternative. But, that isnt what you are looking for.

    I do think it would be instructive to note that the BofM model is dealing with a population that is natural Israel, and as such, all of the trappings of all of that covenant theology go along with it. We, here in the Modern World are not dealing with things that way. We live in a population of mixed ancestry and who is and who isnt natural Israel is not clear. The Lord’s hand in dealing with the Nations is much more flexible, and the BofM indicates the Gentiles will be used to accomplish His goals as He sees fit, and if they are saved along with Israel, then great, but if not, then so be it. Sorry, no covenantal obligations, so dont you be praying for them Moroni, they are on their own.

    But, in the BofM, you have Gentiles who figure prominently in what is going on there. Take Christopher Columbus for example, and all of the talk about Gentiles whooping it up on the Lamanites. Christopher was obviously presented as a good example whom the Spirit moved (what?!?! wasnt he a Roman Catholic???), the nasty Gentiles who reject the Nephite record a bad one.

    My point is, the Gentiles are exempt from a lot of the strictures of Abrahamic Covenant, as Paul so eloquently puts it in the NT, and the BofM endorses that point of view, albeit implicitly. The kill/convert/avoid policy of natural Israel doesnt apply to Gentiles, they arent part of the covenant.

    Are there ways of approaching the great apostasy and the corruption of scripture that do give room for a respectful approach to religious pluralism?

    Sure. Recall that all of the members of the early LDS Church came from a wide array of religious backgrounds, and all of them read their Bibles. And compare the latter-day canon’s quotes of the ancient scripture with the available versions of the ancient scripture and realize they really arent all that different, so when the BofM says those things were “taken away” it means deleted, as in entirely missing, not edited or altered with respect to the text. So, the texts we have are good, endoresed by the LDS canon (e.d., Nephi, the Lord and Moroni all tell us to study Isaiah in the BofM, pretty good endorsement), and should be studied.

    What other factors in the wider LDS lifestyle are there which contribute to insensitivity, religious ignorance, and arrogance?

    Lots of things. Too many to even start lising them.

  20. handle

    Mogget,

    This is a great post. However, I was surprised to see Baylor mentioned as an example of good scholarship on the Other. I’ve had conversations with one of their professors who covers Islam. He lacked the basic skills needed to teach about Islam (he didn’t even speak Arabic), but they asked him to teach about it anyway because they were either unable or didn’t want to hire s/o who was trained in Islamic studies. Also, for what it’s worth, their Jewish studies professor, Marc Ellis, has been accused of being a “self hating” Jew. I’m not sure I would agree with that classification, but the point is, Baylor has its own problems engaging the Other. Perhaps things are better in their biblical studies dept (?).

    Religious universities in general are bedeviled by the need to hire coreligionists.

  21. redcatalyst

    Having taken World Religions classes at different Universities, I have to say it works both ways. When I took it at the U of U, the teacher began every class with, “Not to bash the Mormon church but…” He was an ex-Mo.
    The books he used were excellent, and the class would have been well rounded if he wasn’t so intent on discrediting the church in every lecture.
    Having taken it at another college, the texts were also good, but I don’t think the questions about religion were deep enough.
    I am also familiar with the text BYU uses, or used. It was–different, but not that much different. Without going into theories of religion it tended to show the tenets of each faith in a good light, and find the truth therein, and then as mentioned, say the gospel is better. (Perhaps theories of religion are upper level, and not beginner courses at any university? It’s been awhile.)
    Is a world religions course required at many universities? I, unfortunately, or fortunately–have attended several, and it has never been a requirement.

  22. lief

    I took World Religion from Roger Keller at BYU. My recollection is that there was no explicit comparison of other religions to Mormonism. In fact, it probably could have used a bit more of a comparative angle so that larger themes of theology or especially Christian history could be highlighted. Instead it was merely descriptive – with a chapter for each religion and a few pages about their worldview and practices. Where possible, other religious viewpoints were presented by current or former adherents to that religion (and the class was co-taught by a practicing Sikh). Keller comes from a Protestant background, but I didn’t feel like this illuminated the class as much as it could have. He also studied other religions proactively, such as extended stays at buddhist temples, etc., which was refreshing for a BYU class. Too bad it was not required.

  23. lxxluthor

    I think that there are two separate but connected issues at stake here. The first is that LDS Bible/religion scholars don’t usually seem to know how to play by the rules in their academic setting. This thread unfortunately turned a little heated and has been dropped. I think we should resurrect it with some of Mogget’s famous chaste kisses being handed out to everyone beforehand. The second is whether LDS people at large deal well and respectfully with fellow co-religionists and whether they should be taught about them at BYU and how.

    I don’t know that teaching a good, respectful, open world religions class is going to help our scholars and scholars-in-training. The scholars-in-training and scholars deal with other Christians primarily and modern Jews where the world religions class proportionately covers other religions more than these two. And just knowing their beliefs isn’t equivalent to learning how to deal with them respectfully in an academic setting.

    Also, learning about Catholics and Jews, from my experience, usually ends up focusing a lot more on their past than on their current state and never on their current academic tendencies. This sounds like it needs its own class or at least some good one on one tutelage from an LDS scholar who successfully navigates this world already. At BYU this would be someone like Thom Wayment.

    I think that something ought to be done to prepare LDS who get their undergraduate training from BYU that want to go into the field. Heaven knows there are enough of us now that it needs to be addressed. And from my personal experience LDS grad students who are going into the field and didn’t attend BYU for their undergraduate schooling struggle with this less, maybe they have to figure it out from the start because they don’t have that insular LDS experience that we here at the Y get.

    As for regular LDS people interacting with the outside world, I think that a good world religions course would work if it was taught right. And by that I mean that it has the focus of helping students prepare to interact with real people from these religions instead of just learning about their teachings in a faceless, abstract way. I don’t see this focus in our current world religions course.

  24. g.wesley

    “–a young man who implicitly suggested that the rest of Christianity was ‘lost and confused’ without the Book of Mormon”

    this also agitated me (assuming i’m thinking of the same source), especially given the statement that ‘none of the nt mss are the same’ (i’m paraphrasing), as if the bofm (jst, etc.) doesn’t create more problems than it solves for lds people involved in nt (not to mention ot) textual criticism.

    “As LDS we are asked to teach and not to be taught.”

    wow! i believed this as a missionary but in terms of academic religious studies it’s absurd. (yes, i’m schizophrenic.) last week i attended a few presentations at the undergrad student symposium sponsored by byu religion (my first time attending), and i was horrified to hear one faculty member refer to the undergrad presenters at one session as “world experts.” the logic seems to be: because mormonism is the only true religion, mormons are ‘world experts’ on all things religious (even undergrads whose presentations are based on two online sources and one print source circa 1900, to give one example). incredible. (let me make it clear that i am criticizing the faculty member’s statement, not the presentations necessarily; i didn’t hear any student claiming to be a ‘world expert.’)

    no, i don’t have anything positive or constructive to say.

  25. jupiterschild

    This may turn out to be off topic, but maybe not: What do you guys think of Harvard’s decision to restructure its GE requirements and put a greater emphasis on religion? What does such a shift in emphasis mean at a school where, according to that article, 53% of students plan to go on to Business, Med, or Law school (I assume this is not to include the hordes of VC and IBankers taken right out of college).

  26. Matt W.

    The first is that LDS Bible/religion scholars don’t usually seem to know how to play by the rules in their academic setting. Is it that they don’t know how to, or that they don’t want to? If it is that they don’t know how to, then it would be because the academic setting at BYU is different. (Which is true) On the otherhand, since most BYU profs went to school somewhere else beside BYU and now teach at BYU (I am assuming here) It seems more likely that they do know how to play by the rules, but that they don’t like or value the rules.

    The rules at IU were that the Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith were two completely different persons, and needed to be held as seperate. It was very challenging to take the view that the Jesus of Faith was the Jesus of History. (I was a convert of 4 months at the time. I think I may have a different perspective now, going back)

  27. OK, Mogget, here is the test. If you were allowed to teach Religion 101 at the Y. Would you allow me to come in as a guest speaker on any particular theological topic you assign me, knowing that I am inwardly biased and kindly trying to persuade you?

    But be assured. The tools available for the Christian paradigm of persuasion, today, is not the sword but love.

  28. HP

    Todd,
    That is a bad test. People don’t invite people into their world religions class with the expectation that they are going to attempt to convert those sitting in the class. Instead of inviting someone with a proselyting agenda, most teachers would prefer to invite someone who is an adherent of a given faith (or, possibly, a recognized expert thereon) to come into the classroom and offer an explanation of the manner in which the church works and believes. The teacher will then likely fill in gaps where the teacher feels such is necessary.

    I would never encourage someone to invite missionaries into a classroom in order to learn about the Mormons. I would encourage them to invite missionaries into their homes, where the nature and goal of teaching is very different. Into the classroom, I would prefer a member be invited, one who is interested in sincerely explaining their own beliefs.

  29. Can scholars separate their lectures from their heart conviction? And if they can, would I respect that scholar?

  30. And btw, I don’t claim to be an esteemed scholar. 🙂

  31. One more thing, HP, I wouldn’t try to convince Mogget or her class to convert the Baptist faith, but I would give my persuasion on a Biblical text. Is there freedom for this?

  32. HP

    Todd, there is a difference between proselytizing and explaining how one approaches a text. The first is inadmissible; the second is just fine (desirable even). If you can maintain the difference, you should be welcome.

    Scholars have to make an attempt to separate themselves from their faith-claims when they attempt academic work. No-one is completely successful, but it is important to try (or, at least, admit the influence your faith claims are having). In your standard collegiate class, there is little need for attempts to prove faith claims. At religious universities, this may sometimes be seen as necessary (although I am curious as to whether it is as necessary as we tend to think).

    I don’t claim to be an esteemed scholar, either. I do claim to be a scholar, though…at least some of the time.

  33. g.wesley

    #30. a great question. at most universities, i would wager that it goes without saying that faculty are expected to separate their ‘heart felt convictions’ from their scholarship to the extent that this is possible (read: ‘play by the rules’). at byu (and perhaps other religiously affiliated schools, i don’t know), i would bet that the opposite is expected (particulalrly in religion), that is, some sort of synthesis between faith and scholarship (read: change or ignore the rules, but still call their work scholarship). personally i (a student) often find it more difficult to synthesize than compartmentalize. as to respect, that’s too subjective.

  34. redcatalyst

    “And by that I mean that it has the focus of helping students prepare to interact with real people from these religions instead of just learning about their teachings in a faceless, abstract way.”

    I have never attended BYU– but all the world religions classes I am familiar with do the same thing–they teach about faiths in an abstract way. This is not a BYU problem, it is the structure of the courses. It is interesting that Harvard had added a world religions course to foster tolerance and understanding. Unless the structure of the course is very different than from what I have experienced–I don’t see how that will help fascilitate healthy interaction with people of other faiths, but only explain some tenets of their faiths in an abstract way.

  35. smallaxe

    To BYU’s credit I really enjoyed the classes I had while in Jerusalem. One class taught by a Rabbi another by a Muslim. I also find it facinating that Keller involves those from other traditions in his teaching.

    If I were to offer a critique it would be that we are to some degree willing to learn about them, but much less willing to learn from .

    The question of course that has to be asked is whether or not learning from an “other” is in line with the mission of universities. If we take a scientific approach (and I’m obviously over generalizing and over simplifying) the implication is that we are observers and not necessarily interactors. This seems to be at least the default position in many ways the world religion classes are taught. On a related note, I am aware of a professor at Harvard who is very upfront about saying, “If the texts we are reading do not somehow transform you, I have not done my job.” He coincedentally taught an undergraduate course last semester on “Moral Reasoning”.

  36. Matt W.

    Smallaxe, I am not sure this is true, I have often heard AoF #13 used as justification to bring up some value or teaching of another religion which we could learn from. I think the theological underpinnings are defintely there to allow us to learn from others(Maybe even more so than other religious groups). Whether we use them or not, is up to us.

  37. Mogget

    Goodness gracious! I posted this and went off to an SBL meeting, never dreaming that all this would transpire on our quiet little site! Nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses all around!

    There are some GREAT thoughts in this thread and I appreciate all of it. Here are a couple of points, in no particular order:

    I think the idea that critical thinking and faith cannot coexist is an essential ingredient for making crap pickles. I think people who make it are afraid. And having said something so naughty, let me offer more nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses all around.

    My original intent for my tour of religion/Bible teaching paradigms was rather different from this post. In this exercise I was simply looking to see how Others handle religious pluralism as part of their religious education, not in a secular approach. It’s a very basic question concerning how various religions approach the religious Other as part of their religion.

    The answer(s) are not so basic, though.

    As a baseline, I was looking at required courses that attempt to present the Other as taught by the religion faculty in religiously affiliated schools. At this point, I also have no idea how successful the outcome is, or even how serious the intent behind the nice words in the course catalog are (no clue about Baylor’s specific challenges but the Jesuits can usually be trusted…).

    As far as I know, the Saints have no program that fits my criteria. Based on anecdotal evidence, some of which is higher in this thread, such a class seems about as likely as little, tiny, pink, heart-shaped ice cubes in Hell. Behind this lies the fact that we have little or no doctrinal impetus for developing an approach. But if we refuse to learn from others, then it seems incumbent upon us to develop our own approach.

    I like the posters, Kurt and Doc I think, who each in their own way made the point that the BoM does not translate well in this area if read literally. I agree. I’d like to think, however, that we have enough brain power to do something about that. I just listened to a presentation on Proverbs 1-8 in which the Father was really having s!x with Lady Wisdom in a myrrh-dripped bed while the Lad was out avoiding the Strange Woman. So a nice BoM reading that tells us nice things about religious pluralism shouldn’t be a problem. Really.

    Now there are many things in this thread that deserve more of a response or even their own post. Most of you are far beyond my thoughts already. I’ll come back to this later, but right now I have to get ready for tomorrow AM. Two last thoughts:

    There are actually quite a number of people participating in this debate as either members of this blog or visitors who have made the transition to critical approaches and polite, respectful interactions with the Other without a loss of church participation. How did you do it? I think this is one question we need to come back to at some point.

    Another question is that of an abstract approach versus an engaged approach. In order to speak respectfully of the Other, is it necessary to drop back to an uninvolved posture? Or is that approach just another form of exclusiveism dressed up in a scholar’s robes?

    So…thanks for the thoughts and feel free to leave whatever else occurs to you!

    Mogs

  38. smallaxe

    Matt W.,

    From a theological perspective I completely agree but I think there’s a disconnect in a few areas. First I do think world religion courses (or at least most of the few I have had exposure to) tend to take the “view from nowhere” approach in observing the “other” but not really being open to the possibility that they are transformed in the process. I don’t think this is a uniquely Mormon (or BYU) issue and may not be directly related to the problem of religious pluralism; it instead seems to be a methodological assumption of doing work as a “science” (although, as I stated before this is somewhat of an over-generalization).

    Secondly, the position you take is only one of many potential Mormon responses to the question of pluralism; and if your position is even the dominant view is also questionable. You only need to look at comment #10 to see that some Mormons do not take this position: “As LDS we are asked to teach and not to be taught.” If I was forced to state what the dominant view on this issue is, I would say that most Mormons believe we have a “fullness” of truth, and others have lesser gleams of that same light. What the “other” does is to provide a new perspective for us to see our truth–a new hermeneutic so-to-speak but they do not contribute anything ontologically new. IMO this is why the “parallel” question always comes up when Mormons meet people who study other religions. I’ve also heard the position that if in fact these “others” present things of ontological significance, it is some truth that was originally ours and they are in fact “restoring” it to us.

  39. lxxluthor

    Unless the structure of the course is very different than from what I have experienced–I don’t see how that will help fascilitate healthy interaction with people of other faiths, but only explain some tenets of their faiths in an abstract way.

    Red: Umm, unless I’m missing something we are saying the same thing. World religion classes aren’t taught this way, I just think they should be. And I fail to see how having a proponent of a faith come in and interact with a class could lead to a less abstract understanding of people of another faith than the current method. I bet it’s probably really hard to implement for all the religious groups you want to explore but even something like what happened at the Jerusalem Center mentioned by Axe is better than nothing.

    If the goal of the class (and it isn’t necessarily in all cases but sometimes it is like at Harvard) is to teach people how to interact with people of other faiths respectfully then I think that the hands on approach of having a representative of that faith come in and speak with the students of that class is a great idea.

    Having said this, any success I’ve had at interacting respectfully with those of other faiths, in academic and non-academic settings, has started with two points: I learned something about their faith before the encounter, usually from the distant, uninvolved perspective, and I decided beforehand that I would I always be respectful of other people’s beliefs regardless of what they were and whether they reciprocated that respect or not. The current religions of the world classes are not bad at encouraging mutual tolerance and respect, they just could be vastly improved.

  40. redcatalyst

    LXX–
    I agree completely. I think it is a great idea to have presenters from other religions share their experience. The question then might be, is that what a world religions class is for? or is that another class all together?

  41. lxxluthor

    I think that both ideas together would make for the best all around class. Two days a week you look at a religion from the distant point of view and at the end of the week you have someone of that faith come in and speak with the class. This way you get to be informed about another person’s religion before you speak to them and you get to learn first hand how to interact with a person of that faith. Thus a single class does double duty.

  42. redcatalyst

    My concern would be that undergraduates may take one persons experience with his/her faith and assume that all people of that faith come from the same viewpoint. Imagine a very conservative Mormon who takes everything very literal, explaining to the class that all Mormons believe the creation happened in 6 days and the flood saved all the animals we now have on the earth; and, Coke is clearly against the WW.
    Clearly–very different viewpoints exist in every religion. It would be necessary to somehow convey this too.

  43. redcatalyst

    Maybe there should be a class along the lines of: Religious applications–focusing on daily application of faith among different denominations/cross- cultural relgions

  44. Another question is that of an abstract approach versus an engaged approach. In order to speak respectfully of the Other, is it necessary to drop back to an uninvolved posture? Or is that approach just another form of exclusiveism dressed up in a scholar’s robes?

    I dont know about “uninvolved”, but you do have to be open to and be willing listen to what other people are saying, LDS or not, to learn something from them. I dont see how that would be exclusivist. You have to turn off your own predilections for a particular reading or idea in order to learn something new. People who will not set their own previously derived set of pet notions aside to listen to someone else are the ones who are the real exclusivists.

    I havent used an LDS-sourced Scripture commentary since I was on the mission. Yes, one has to pick through weeds to find the flowers, but it is no different from LDS-sourced commentary, which is rather weedy at times.

  45. Fascinating conversation. I actually just got assigned to read a book called Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide for Interreligious Education, by Judith Berling, which touches on a lot of these issues. One of the interesting stories she tells is how at her school, faculty who were advocating a “world religions” survey course for non-Christian religions were horrified by the idea of learning Christianity in the course of a semester. It’s a tough question: how do you deal with the complexity of even one other religious tradition, let alone several, in the course of a single class? Which seems related to the concern raised by Redcatalyst raised in #43.

    But I definitely think such efforts are worthwhile. Also, I’d love to see something like a “Christian Theology 101” course at BYU that introduced students to some of the major theological debates in the history of Christianity; I notice that often when we get into discussions of various doctrinal issues, we talk as if these questions had never before been tackled by anyone else.

  46. Mogget

    Thanks for the tip on the book. I’ve actually ordered up a copy but it has a four-six week delivery delay.

    I would also like to see at least an option for a more formal approach to common, basic theological questions. I think that is what Roland Deschain was thinking about when when he pointed out that the Catholics tend to offer paradigms for thinking about God and related topics. Should such a thing come about, it will undoubtedly arise because of faculty and student pressure, like the current incarnation of the ANES program. Right now, however, there are far to few people who think this sort of thing is of value.

  47. I think the philosophy department at BYU does a good job at addressing some of these questions—I’ve heard very good things about Siebach’s Philosophy of Religion class. Philosophy classes tend to take ideas very seriously, no matter what religion voiced them. Also, I sat in on Jim Faulconer’s Contemporary French Philosophy class and learned a ton about hermeneutics, issues that I think are particularly relevant to Mormon scholarship (esp. b/c of Mormonism’s unique emphasis on continuing revelation which itself opens to hermeneutical questions, not to mention the Mormon scholar’s identity crisis along the lines that many of the posts here have been addressing this past month…).

  48. Mogget

    Yes, I agree that answers, or at least solid approaches, to many of these issues are safely tucked away in philosophy departments They have yet to penetrate many religion faculties for a variety of reasons. One major challenge, I think, is that philosophy has its own “language.” A nice translation into biblitalk would go a long ways…can you suggest a book or two?