Thursday, August 21, 2008

Studying Religion in a Public University

Classes have begun this week and I'm having a wonderful time. A semester off was entirely too much. One thing I'm getting the feel for is studying Religion in a public university. I knew what to expect, basically - but the experience of not praying before class or not being sure where my professor stands theologically (which I like) is interesting (not bad, just interesting). I'm taking a class on Classical Islam and my professor asked some pretty good questions right off the bat: What is Religion? Do we separate the sacred from the profane? What is Islam? What is not Islam?

Then she asked, "Are the events that took place on September 11th to be attributed to Islam? Is that Islam?". Beause we had done introductions in the beginning of class, several students had identified themselves as Muslims and I think this may have made some people's reactions to this question less than honest. The standard MSNBC answers came out: "Islam is a religion of peace!" "Those were extremists who did that." But what does extremist mean? Does it mean someone who follows the ideology of the religion to its extreme? If a religion is based on love, shouldn't the extreme of that religion be to love people around you like crazy (and probably to an almost irritating point)?

So, I raised my hand and said that I thought we had an issue in defining what Islam is because of the diversity of opinions based on a lack of authority. What does orthodox Islam look like? Where is the governing body that states what is orthodoxy and what is not? Because of the lack of this governing body, I think we're simply going to side with a portion of Islam that suits our fancy and say in unison with MSNBC, "Islam is a religion of peace." But is it? I'm not saying that it's not, I'm simply saying that I'm uncomfortable with giving Islam this status a priori before looking at the history and the ideology within those historical contexts.

Also - is there ever going to be a discussion of 9/11 without bringing up the Crusades? They are so fundamentally different that it seems arbitrary to bring up the Crusades in those discussions except to perhaps offer some kind of in cognito apology on behalf of Christians.

7 comments:

Scott Ferguson said...

The importance of the crusades is in the fact that Muslims have not forgotten. It is part of the root of their perception of Christianity. In much the same way some Christians equate any opposition to being thrown to the lions by the Romans. A serious stretch but ingrained nonetheless.

patmccullough.com said...

I second Scott's comment, the Crusades are part of the collective memory. The way that "Christian nation" of America attacks a Muslim country like Iraq, hoping to convert the country to its ideals, calls to mind obvious connections.

Also, I'm not sure calling these statements "MSNBC answers" is really fair. The statements do have validity. For example, wouldn't we call a Christian who bombs an abortion clinic an extremist? I would say the same for Christians who supported the preemptive war in Iraq. Both religions have their extremists and fundamentalists and just as I do not want to be associated with ours, I think it fair not to associate the whole of the Muslim world with theirs.

Also, Christians don't have a central governing body either--even though I know you crazy Romans think we do ;)

Josh McManaway said...

Pat,

You bring up some good points - but I still think it's wrong to bring up the Crusades and compare it with 9/11.

New York has never been in Muslim possession nor was it ever considered a Holy Land. 9/11 wasn't a delayed military effort in response to American aggression a few hundred years previous to gain New York - it was a terrorist act inspired by various ideologies found in Islam.

Also - a "fundamentalist" in Christianity should be someone compelled to love the snot out of his brothers. People who act like jerks, scream on college campuses about the KJV Bible, bomb abortion clinics, etc, are a long way from the "fundamentals".

And Christianity has had a governing body for 2000 years now - it doesn't cease to exist just because some people deny its power (is Christ's power nullified because certain peoples refuse to accept it? μη γενοιτο!). And I think we've seen the effects of ecclesial anarchy on the body of Christ.

Thanks for commenting!

Josh McManaway said...

One more thing - I'm not trying to downplay the significance of the Crusades in Muslim culture. I really am just saying that I think we should be able to discuss 9/11 apart from the Crusades because, as historical events go, they're very very different. I also think that a lot of people are ill-informed concerning the Crusades. I think some great books on the issue are, "A Concise History of the Crusades" by Thomas F. Madden and, "The Crusades" by Hilaire Belloc.

Also on governing bodies and heresy/orthodoxy -
http://ntstudent.blogspot.com/2007/12/heresy-and-church.html

steph said...

I agree with Scott and Pat. Some would say that 911 was a terrorist response to American aggression and domination during the past century.

patmccullough.com said...

Also - a "fundamentalist" in Christianity should be someone compelled to love the snot out of his brothers. People who act like jerks, scream on college campuses about the KJV Bible, bomb abortion clinics, etc, are a long way from the "fundamentals".

I agree. Just as Islamic extremists are a long way from the heart of their own faith.

And Christianity has had a governing body for 2000 years now - it doesn't cease to exist just because some people deny its power (is Christ's power nullified because certain peoples refuse to accept it? μη γενοιτο!).

Are you equating the power of the church with the power of Christ?

And I think we've seen the effects of ecclesial anarchy on the body of Christ.

Indeed. How about women in ministry, for one :) Or Bibles translated into the language of the people? I'm a fan of religious freedom.

Josh McManaway said...

I agree. Just as Islamic extremists are a long way from the heart of their own faith.

I suppose that's what I'm asking - is the heart of Islam really peace and kindness?

Are you equating the power of the church with the power of Christ?

No. Although, the Church's power comes directly from Christ. What good is a Kingdom without a King?

Indeed. How about women in ministry, for one :) Or Bibles translated into the language of the people? I'm a fan of religious freedom.

Both of those things existed before "ecclesial anarchy". Greek and Latin were the languages of the people for quite a long time and there were more than a few women involved from day one in ministry with Jesus.