Monday, May 04, 2009

Norms for religious expression at the University

After Cliffe Knecktle came to campus a few weeks ago, my sociology of religion students and I got into a discussion about the social norms here on campus for talking about religion and morals.

Here's my take on it, albeit not terribly well thought-out.

1) There are some morals that represent absolute truths. E.g., anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, and a few other isms. We can all agree on these, and these beliefs provide social cohesion and mark moral boundaries. Disagreeing with them constitutes a serious norm violation.

2) Non-exclusive religious beliefs are acceptable. So, saying that you happen to believe in religion x, y, or z is fine, but it's best to be somewhat discreet in your discussion of your beliefs. Maybe passing references but not a main topic of conversation.

3) We're to listen to others' worldviews with acceptance and interest. Discussion of religious beliefs should approximate show-and-tell. Claiming any form of absolute truth for your own beliefs or falsity for others is a norm violation. This is why students reacted so, so strongly to Cliffe Knecktle's message, for he was saying that he was right.

What do you think? Is this accurate? It would be kind of interesting to talk to students in more depth about this to elaborate this issue.


K T Cat said...

Off topic: I thought you might like this.

K T Cat said...

On topic: #1 doesn't work since the Muslims don't adhere to it and they are not subject to criticism.

Glen Davis said...

As a college minister I'd say those are fairly accurate in regard to Christianity.

As K T Cat mentioned, the story is more complicated when you begin talking about non-Christian religions. Since another major norm is that you can't assert the superiority of Western culture over any other culture, criticizing other religions that are perceived to be culturally-rooted creates cognitive dissonance. In addition, most American college students assume that the Muslims they know (to use K T Cat's example) are not the kind of Muslims who truly believe homosexuality is actually wrong or that non-Muslims will go to hell.

K T Cat said...

Well, you can't assert that one religion or culture is better until you start applying metrics. As wonderful as I'm sure the Kumeyaay Indians of the San Diego region, I'm pretty sure I like antibiotics and modern surgical techniques more than digging for tubers with sticks. Try as they might, the Kumeyaay weren't going to come up with that no matter how hard they tried.

See also: Why Gregor Mendel could not have been an Iroquois.

Brad Wright said...

Hm-m-m-m, interesting points about Muslim students... I hadn't really thought about them much. Here at UConn they're also usually foreign students as well, so they're put into their own category. I think you're right that these norms might fit better with Christianity.