I recently wrote a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education on the place of religious studies within theological institutions (“Finding Empathy in Religious Studies”). Most of the responses have been very positive. There were, however, a couple angry comments regarding my rejection of dogmatism. What I challenged was any belief system that eliminated the opportunities to be questioned. The trademark of any decent education is the freedom to pursue questions.
This is an important element for the theme of The Discarded Image and so I’d like to raise the same point here. In the article, I wrote:
Classrooms can be places of real education, but they can also be camps for dogma. And that’s troubling. Many seminary students are second-career individuals, so this may be the only time a professor gets to open the door to new insights before the students trek off to their ministries, where they will be looked to by parishioners as experts. Unless seminary professors put our students (and ourselves) under the microscope, examining the motivations and commitments behind our beliefs, we will be creating monsters, un-self-aware and unchallenged ministry leaders with a dangerous stamp of approval provided by their seminary degrees.
This is not to say that individuals are not allowed to have beliefs which they conclude are true, nor is it the same as saying all beliefs are equally true. To my knowledge, no one really ever argues that point. It is to say, however, that real education means learning something about ourselves. It is learning about our untouchable beliefs and asking why they are untouchable. It is believing in our beliefs enough to test them and put them to the fire.
An openness to others is not to say that seminaries can never be definitively Christian in mission. True learning cannot occur, however, when education is simply a self-aggrandizing tool. Faith may seek understanding, as seminary communities like to say, but understanding requires self-awareness. If any questions are off the table, then the educational game is fixed and folly.
Apparently, some thought this was too much for me to ask. Read the post and the comments and tell me what you think. Read all of “Finding Empathy in Religious Studies” at Chronicle.com…