Appreciating Religion?

In light of the recent Sikh temple shooting, the American Academy of Religion posted this on their Facebook page:

The AAR is shocked by the deadly shooting in the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. What role can religious studies scholars and scholarship play outside of academia to facilitate, not tolerance, but appreciation for all communities of faith?

I pointed this out to Russell McCutcheon, and an interesting discussion ensued on his Facebook page. The discussion prompted these thoughts (for which I’ll claim responsibility):

  1. What does appreciation mean? Isn’t appreciation sometimes at odds with understanding?
  2. Perhaps the role of a scholar should be kept distinct from the role of a moral authority?
  3. What if we study groups with which we share no sympathies? Is our role to teach appreciation of those sorts of groups? And if not, how are we to decide which groups we want to appreciate and which groups we don’t?
  4. What if some of us view it as our jobs to show students how social agendas are advanced and views of the world naturalized by presenting some groups as deserving of appreciation but others as not? (However, one wonders to what extent we as teachers and scholars advance agendas in our own way by showing students how some agendas are advanced while leaving other agendas unanalyzed.)
  5. Perhaps it is our job to show how the rhetoric of appreciation and tolerance seem designed to mask where groups draw lines, lines that divide the appreciated from the unappreciated?
  6. Last, how might the previous comments be pointed out without us coming across as horribly insensitive, given the recent tragedy?
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2 Responses to Appreciating Religion?

  1. Miriam L. Levering says:

    I like these questions and observations very much. And yet, appreciation and tolerance are demands that our radically pluralistic society make upon all of us, students and teachers, for purely practical reasons. To live together we must be capable of appreciating, knowing that our appreciation reflects our own standpoints and biases. So as we proceed to keep in mind the questions and points you raise, Craig, are we not allowed to value appreciation and tolerance when they occur, for purely pragmatic reasons?

  2. Judy Redman says:

    I think that what religious studies scholars could contribute is the understanding that within all religions there is great variation in how the teachings are interpreted and put into practise and that is is typically only the fringe of each that perpetrates atrocities. And that people who don’t practise a religion also draw lines and advance social agendas – they just use different things to justify their lines and agendas.

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