Day 3 (Afternoon II): Religious Diversity and the Secular University

What are the blind spots that we have as scholars, academics, practitioners, religious people, people of faith, belief or non-belief? 

From 2 – 13 July 2018, invited senior scholars and select early career scholars are participating in a two-week CRASSH Summer School devoted to some of the most critical issues in the emergence of the modern university and one of the most fraught problems of our historical moment: the related questions of secularism and religious diversity. Scholars will be blogging for the duration of the workshop, so keep an eye on the CRASSH blog for regular updates. In the following post, PhD candidate Joel Hanisek provides a brief overview of Day 3's second afternoon session. 

What are the blind spots that we have as scholars, academics, practitioners, religious people, people of faith, belief or non-belief? And how do these keep us from better understanding the interfaces between traditional modes of religious learning and knowledge and the way we now approach texts through the rhetoric and substance of scientific study in universities? This is the way in which Omer Michaelis (Harvard/Tel Aviv University) gently framed our final session of today.

There is a strong secular sense of science as doing the work of liberation; this session also considered the way that each person is limited, too often unconsciously, by their methods of interpretation. By detaching the idea of secularization from faith or its absence we explored how secularization acquires a meaning through the very act of participation in and with Enlightenment values. These values may even vary across diverse notions of Enlightenments. The point is that secular and religious stances both suppose positive content. They are not neutral or formless. But whether subtle or stark, position matters. Consider your stance like a blimp tethered to a grundnorm – from the basket there may seem a full sweep of the land. From the land the horizon may seem blocked. The position matters for scholarship, whether scholarship is seen as study or prayer, and whether the textual interrogation is a form of religious fulfillment, devotion, growth, or is, in fact, its very secularization.

There is a very human impact in all this. Should, for instance, texts used in liturgical and teaching contexts dually be sensitive to, or at least aware of, scholarship’s impact on people? Should the university have special consideration for people who have left because of faith-based or religious claims that they have been unable to reconcile with the life of an institution and its members?

What may the university community gain by being differently attuned to religious subjects, actors, and practitioners if the rhetoric of liberated scientific discourse is not prized above the process of education and truth seeking? The position considered today was that there is intellectual humility, which understands that even as capacious minds of famous academics pour over texts such as those of Maimonides, the keys to connecting his arguments to those of Al-Ghazali may be located in an otherwise unknown 13thc rabbi.

Who then are the contemporary religious practitioners who are not present, either by volition or exclusion, at relevant university tables of scholarship and policy? If critique and secularism need not be conflated is it possible for these different parties to work through spaces mutually, and without damage to integrity, especially, perhaps most importantly, where they do not feel comfortable? We come to things with our own hermeneutic circles. By squaring these circles it is possible to draw attention, that of ourselves and others, to the way in which the academic is not a disembodied voice with footnotes, but a human being engaging with texts, often after a long and complex history – for text and interpreter both. At the same time this approach can highlight conflicts around the moral nonnegotiables of justice. Relative to the changing place of religion in the university and scholarly settings it is questions of gender and sexuality that are at the forefront of these clashes. The choice is either to disengage or to keep tuning in, albeit through the sharp crackles of static, searching for a clearer connection.  

Blog posts from the Summer School (thus far): 

​• Day 1 (Afternoon I)
Day 1 (Afternoon II)
Day 2 (Morning)
Day 2 (Afternoon I)
Day 2 (Afternoon II)
Day 3 (Afternoon I)
Day 3 (Afternoon II)

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Posted: Friday 6 July 2018

Contributor: Joel Hanisek