No other humanities discipline evokes as much visceral emotion as Religious Studies. Not everyone has an opinion on Art History, Classics, or Philosophy, but EVERYONE has an opinion on religion.
Part of the fun of switching my specialty from Roman history to Religious Studies was the realization that everyone suddenly cares about my field of study. Rather than discussing the historical accuracy of The Gladiator, my party conversations suddenly turned to: What is the best translation of the Bible? Is religion disappearing? Do you think the Sunnis and Shias will ever stop fighting?
As much as I enjoy this newfound attention, there is a dark-side: angry anti-religionists (angry religious people too, but let’s save that topic for another time). Check out the following exchange I had on my YouTube video on ISIS and archaeology:
Now I can handle the ad hominem attacks. I don’t mind being called an “idiot” or a “fool.” Such is the parlance of the common internet troll. But this is no troll. This fellow has strongly held opinions on religion and Islam, opinions that he apparently has given some thought.
Nothing short of a few classes in religion and Islam can combat such ignorance, so how do I respond? Using the woefully inadequate medium of YouTube comments, how can I convince someone that Islamophobia does indeed exist? Should I take an apologist’s stance defending the merits of religion in the face of his claim that religion “will destroy us all?”
To be fair, this was one of my more controversial video blogs. Whenever you wade into the discussion of Islam and terrorism, be sure you are about to face some heated emotions. But I’m baffled, as an educator, how to approach someone that denies the existence of Islamophobia. The forum of a blog or YouTube channel is ill-equipped to handle such needs.
If anything, this convinces me more than ever that we, as a society, NEED better religious literacy. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that we don’t need to understand other religions in a world that is increasingly pluralistic and interconnected. Religion is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and we cannot flourish as a species if a large swathe of us hold the opinions reflected in this exchange.
How would you have responded? What role does a religious studies blog play in educating the public on religion? I’m curious to hear your ideas.