I have two items for my write-up today on Ari Goldman's The Search for God at Harvard.
1. On page 70, Goldman states:
noteworthy development in the academic study of religion has been the
ability of scholars of religion to admit that they too----on
occasion----are men and women of faith. The distinction between
believers and scholars was fast coming apart in a reaction to the
objective study of religion that had been prevalent at the university
for decades. Suddenly, faith was seen as an edge in the study of
religion. As a result, ministers and priests, long valued at
seminaries, were finding greater acceptance at Harvard----and not just
at the Divinity School."
As I look back at my educational
experience, I'd say that many of my professors in religious studies have
been religious. This was the case at DePauw University and also (to
many people's surprise) at Harvard Divinity School. They were still
critical scholars, in that they acknowledged that diversity and
historical errors existed within the Bible, but they still adhered to a
religious tradition, and they took that tradition seriously. Why they
did so, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps they thought that there were
profound points that religious traditions or theologians made, points
that helped them to make sense of life. In short, their religious
tradition contained things that inspired them, even if they regarded it
as flawed, in a sense. And maybe experience played a role in their
It does seem to me, though, that the Jewish institutions
that I attended were less religious. Or maybe they were differently
religious----their religion was not as focused on theology. When I
think of religion, what comes to my mind is inspiring lessons that make
us feel whole or encourage us to serve others. I didn't get that as
much at the Jewish institutions that I attended. There were a few
professors who treated the Bible and Jewish tradition in such a
religious manner, but, often, the focus was on critical scholarship
(highlighting biblical diversity and history without trying to
incorporate the Bible into an inspiring theology), language, and
eccentricities or interesting points in the stories. There wasn't as
much of an attempt to speculate on how the tradition speaks to larger
human questions. I'm just speaking from my experience, and others may
have different impressions.
I guess that I'm the sort of person
who would like to combine critical scholarship with theology. I'd like
to be honest about the text, but I'd also like to feel fed. What's
ironic is that I know some people from conservative Christian
institutions who prefer the opposite: they want to focus on the academic
dimension of studying the text, rather than straining to come up with
application points that strike them as a stretch.
tells stories about his experiences at an Orthodox Jewish school when he
was a boy. Ari enjoyed reading the newspaper on the subway each
morning on the way to school, but his teacher thought that he should
read a religious book instead to draw closer to God and to make a
positive impact on the world.
I've heard similar advice from
Christians. Joel Osteen said a couple of times that, instead of
listening to the news each morning (which is depressing) on the way to
work, one should listen to one of his tapes, or a Joyce Meyer CD. In
one sermon, he mentioned a guy who listened to a particular sermon of
Joel's each morning on the way to work, and this guy eventually had
Joel's sermon memorized!
I can sympathize with this, somewhat.
Others may choose not to listen to religious tapes, but rather to
motivational speakers. They're hoping to have a positive attitude each
day, and maybe even to advance. But, like Ari Goldman, I like keeping
updated on the news each morning. The news has a certain amount of
drama that I like to read. And it helps me to be informed when I go to
school or to work, for then I can participate in discussions about
What Have We Learned Since 2008?
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