Mar 21, 2016

Religious Literacy: Midterm

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I have been taking this class through Harvard edX on religious literacy and enjoying it very much. It's also been taking up a lot of my writing time, so in lieu of a blog post, I thought I'd post the Midterm I recently posted to the classroom. The assignment was to apply the cultural studies method to a contemporary article, relevant to my cultural context. I chose this article for analysis. The questions posed are in bold. It's a little brief, because there was a word limit. My first draft was about twice the length, but oh well.

1) Does the article represent the religion or religions in question as internally diverse?

Yes and no. The authors specify that the focus is biblical literalists, including "Evangelical and fundamentalist churches, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and other conservative sects." They distinguish these sects from "liberal, progressive Christian churches with a humanistic viewpoint, a focus on the present, and social justice."

There is no acknowledgment of diversity among Evangelical sects and LDS, and that not all are rigidly "conservative." For example, the authors claim that these groups "focus on the spiritual world as superior to the natural world." However, there are Evangelical movements with a strong focus on ecology and "stewardship" of the natural world.

Aside from the caveat about “liberal” sects, they are not represented in the article. There are no examples of benign or positive influence in other Christian sects. Yet, they make many generalizations about the destructiveness of Christianity and religion, writ large, rather than confining these assessments to these "conservative" Christian practices.

To say that some religious expressions are “more toxic than others” implies that they’re all at least somewhat toxic. This broader implication is not supported in the text. While there is acknowledgment of the internal diversity of Christianity, the authors do not present a balanced portrait of that diversity.

2) If authorities are cited, do you think they are properly chosen?

The authorities are contextually appropriate, but also appear to have a strong anti-Christian, anti-religion bias.

3) What perspectives of the tradition or traditions are represented? Are there relevant voices that are not heard? What might change about the article if they were included?

The perspectives represented in the article are primarily from researchers into and victims of religious abuses.

If perspectives were offered from some of the "liberal" Christians they allude to, the resulting article might have been more balanced. The overall conclusions may have been less damning of Christianity, and religion, as a whole.

4) Are there other aspects of the article that you think are relevant to comment upon based on the method?

There are some bold assertions about the cognitive basis for religious belief that lack any citation or support. There is an allusion to linguist George Lakoff, but if or how that directly applies to this construction is not clear.

The article does not address any other cultural factors, which may be relevant. There is no discussion of "situatedness." It appears to refer to the United States, based on the political elements and terminology, but this is not specifically explained, nor is any regional variation within the United States accounted for.

The implication that Christianity is made up of varying degrees of danger to mental health is not caveated, and does not include any possibility of healthy religious experience. They also claim that churches “vary with official doctrine about rejection.” They do not entertain the possibility that members of some Christian sects do not experience much or any negative fall-out when separating from their church. From the perspective of my own "situatedness," I would determine this to be erroneous. I was raised Episcopalian, but have not been a practicing Christian for many years. I have experienced no social penalty for breaking from that faith. I was not penalized by family members, some of whom are still deeply involved in the Church. I have attended the occasional service and been welcomed in a number of Episcopal Churches warmly, openly, and without pressure toward greater involvement. I feel very free to move within those circles on my own terms and converse, even with clergy, about my rather unorthodox spiritual beliefs. There is no “official doctrine about rejection" that I'm aware of. If there's an unofficial one, I haven't encountered it.

5) In light of your comments, please rate the quality of the article on a scale from 1-5 (1=poor; 3=average; 5=exceptional).



  1. Hi! Thanks for sharing! I was actually wondering what kept you busy from writing more:). Now will have a closer look on this article that you chose and also the course

    1. The course is awesome, lots of new information and challenging concepts. I think they're going make the content public after the course wraps, too.

      I'm just so busy in every area of my life, right now, it's a little crazy-making. I hope to get back to some serious writing soon.

    2. Yeah, I kinda had a feeling you were. Hope it's been mostly in a good way busy for you though, and will become more relaxed before getting too crazy. Looking forward for more of your reflections on things.

  2. As for the article...I'm stuck with the title even...What the author means by "twisted truth"? Does it mean the following article contains twisted truth? Can truth even be twisted? Truth is truth, objectively speaking, everything else can get twisted, but it is no longer THE truth...or?

    1. Well, that's a philosophical question. Is there an "objective truth." Perhaps there is, but how can we possibly perceive it? Perception is subjective.

      But, you're right that the article title either makes no sense, or it implies that it's the authors who are about to fuck with your mind. In fairness, titles are usually written by editors, not article authors. I don't know how it works at Salon, but it's typical with many publications. It could just be very clumsy writing.

    2. Oh, ok, I didn't know how the titles work. Anyway, I would've probably given a higher mark of 3+ if I just read this article on my own. Your points made me think more and re-evaluate info presented by the author. Wish I could read the original fuller draft though.

    3. Yeah. You'd have to buy that book about why Christianity is the worst thing ever to do it, though.


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