Christian Privilege & the Religion Professor

Christian Privilege & the Religion Professor April 14, 2015

ifyc betterToday is Better Together Day!  The designation comes from the Interfaith Youth Core, lifting up the day to encourage more people to have one conversation with a person of a different religious or non-religious background.  It’s an effort to combat some of the basic ignorance about other religious views that pervades our culture, and religious tension that permeates the globe:

“That’s why, on April 14th, we want you talk to an actual human of another religious or non-religious background about the values you both share. Then come back and post the experience online.”

For me, every day includes talking about religion and that almost always includes with people who have a different background than I do … my students.  I’ve been working on ways of drawing out conversations about difference in the classroom for several years, making every class a little more multifaith in content, and this has meant reckoning with the ways that Christian privilege plays out in that setting.

I first wrote about Christian privilege here at Patheos in 2012.  It has been a popular post ever since, which clued me in to the fact that it was something we needed to talk more about.  Especially in relationship to interfaith cooperation.  I had the opportunity to be in conversation with colleagues on a panel on the subject in 2013 at the American Academy of Religion, and eventually turned that work into an article that has just been published by the journal Teaching Theology and Religion.  Published by the Wabash Center, TTR is a great resource for those of us whose job is, in fact, teaching theology and religion.

Here’s the abstract for the article, which is available in full via the publisher’s website:

Working with undergraduate students invites teachers into relationship and conversation with young people at a time when they are emerging as adults and forming their identities. Faith is one area of identity formation often attended to by scholars, college professors, and their institutions. But within that, little attention has been paid to those who do not identify as religious.

Additionally, “the overwhelming presence of Christianity at American institutions maintains it as the spiritual norm on campus. … Those within the spiritual norm gain a level of privilege that is often unconscious” (Seifert 2007, 11). This has an effect not only on nonreligious students but on any student who identifies as anything other than Christian; and it has a unique effect on teaching and learning in the religion classroom.

In this article, I will explain what Christian privilege is, why it is a unique problem in the undergraduate religion classroom, and what teachers of religion might do in response to it. In the end, I argue that educators need to better understand the effects of Christian privilege in our classrooms and become allies to the nonreligious in particular by using pedagogies that include and support all students, in their many religious affiliations and unaffiliations.

Education and conversation are essential to our being better together, today and every other day.  This is some of how I’m working on this in my “day job” as a religion professor.  And even though this campaign targets college students, I encourage you all to participate in IFYC’s Better Together Day by having a conversation with someone of a different religious or non-religious background.

What inspires you?

Tell us about it here in the comments, or online with @ifyc … #WeAreBetterTogether.


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