religious studies

How Will We Teach About Sikhism After the Tragedy?

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Something is deeply wrong when the burden remains exclusively on the community itself to conduct all of the outreach, to articulate its values and defend its contributions to the rest of society. Should the educational burden be entirely on the community? There is a deep isolation, not to mention exhaustion, in that “cultural tax”—especially after a tragedy. Do we as Americans simply leave the community to articulate itself to its neighbors? Do we ask them to teach us at the same time as they are burying their dead? Or are there ways that fellow travelers can participate in the educational process?

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Talking Religion at 30,000 Feet

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As I learned in college, religious studies is predicated on a notion of bracketing. “When we study religion academically,” professors tell students every semester, “we bracket our own beliefs and ideas so we can better understand others.” When I tell a stranger that I study religion in America the first question is always “What do you plan to do with that?” But the second question always begins, “so, what do you think about…” Sometimes I try to bend the question to some neutral space where I can offer a well-informed opinion that brings historical clarity without actually taking a side. Other times I just mutter something and go back to my book and wonder if this bracketing is rude, unnecessary, and silly. Shouldn’t I just tell the tourist in seat 17B what I really think?

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Spiritual But Not Religious? Come Talk to Me

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Most Sundays I don’t go to church because, frankly put, it bores me; I am tired and church fails to provide any compelling reason to get out of my pajamas. (Were I living in a large, cosmopolitan city where churches with high liturgy, weekly Eucharist, beautiful architecture, and trained musicians abounded, my story might be quite different.) Although I like the people at church very much and I wish to support them in their hours of need, I am still unwilling to prioritize membership. I have an emotionally demanding job that takes up all of my time and psychic energy during the academic year, and I would honestly rather get work done in my off hours than act as an usher or sit on a church governing body.

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Studying Religion is Suddenly Popular

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The premise that Religious Studies was a weak blend of esotericism and elitism prior to recent years—but is reviving through putting all that in the past—is wrong on factual grounds. More perniciously, if this analysis informs institutional strategies in an era of downsizing, it could be downright dangerous for the future of the discipline. 

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