Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dismantling Orientalism, One Piece at at Time

The Centre College faculty met yesterday to consider revamping our religion requirement.

For years we have required students to take two courses under the General Education heading of "Fundamental Questions." One of those courses must be either REL 110 "Biblical History and Ideas" or REL 120 "History of Christian Thought." For the second course they may choose from a wider array, which includes 110, 120, and REL 130 "World Religions" as well as a variety of philosophy courses. "History of Christian Thought" is an introduction to the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, as a fundamental basis for understanding Western civilization. "World Religions" is primarily about Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The Religion program and the curriculum committee proposed changing these General Education requirements, which is a fairly big deal here. They proposed that the two basic choices be 110 (the same Bible course) and a new course, REL 150 "Western Religious Traditions." REL 130 "World Religions" would become "Eastern Religions." REL 120 (Christian thought) would move to the second array of courses.

What does this boil down to? Islam is being moved from "world religions" to "western religions" - understood as the Abrahamic faiths.

Coincidentally, my "Macrosociological Theory" seminar is working its way through Edward Said's Orientalism this week. Said's point is that Europeans invented an "Orient" that began with Islam, then incorporated the cultures of India and points east. Islam was made to seem more different from the other Abrahamic faiths than it really is. This has had bad consequences for centuries, and never more so than today.

The faculty passed this improvement to our General Education core without a dissenting vote.


Pastor Dennis said...

"Western civilization" is an inheritor of Hellenism which looked askance at "the East". This prejudice goes back to the time of the Persian wars of ancient Greece. The origin of Christianity in "the East" was a mark against its acceptance by the Greeks and Romans. Islam began on the fringes of the fertile cresent which is the source of Western civilization. It's first encounters were with Christians and Jews. Women wearing the veil was a Greek influnece. It's complicated.

MJTC said...

I took Rel 120 History of Christian Thought and really loved the class as a background of all the philosophy that informs...everything I see around me. I'm sorry to see it move out of the general ed curriculum, since I would almost definitely not have taken it if it were not a requirement, and yet it ended up being such a great class. I found it much more interesting and applicable than Rel 110, which I also took. 120 was also much more rigorous and challenging than 110, and I mean that in the best way possible. Was it discussed at all to keep Christian Thought as a requirement and move Biblical History to the 200 level? From the student perspective, I think that would have made the gen ed curriculum more rigorous, relevant and interesting.

Gruntled said...

I don't know what went on in the committee discussion, since we only saw the final proposal in the faculty meeting.

As I read it, though, "Western Religious Traditions" is much like "History of Christian Thought" - plus Islam, and probably more Judaism. We shall see.