Helping Students See What Ordinarily Remains Hidden
How Implicit Religion Can Enrich Teaching
AbstractOften, when teaching in fields focused on the exploration of human society, an instructor who is concerned with the pervasive societal importance of religion faces the challenge of students informed by a contrary cultural assumption about religion’s significance. The notion that religion is fundamentally severable from other spheres of life is taken for granted in modern liberal, secular society, but is, nonetheless, a highly problematic idea that hides the profound extent to which multiple forms of religious experience are manifested throughout that same society. In teaching about such humanistic topics as politics and religion, political theory, modern world history, and the 2008 United States presidential election, I have discovered that introducing students to implicit religion, and “parallel” phenomena such as civil religion, offers them revealing tools with which to better grasp how, even within a seemingly secular milieu, humankind’s religious life intertwines with all domains of society. Accordingly, it is pedagogically enriching for students, and theoretically beneficial for the conceptualizing both of implicit religion and of religion more broadly, to discuss in the classroom such embodiments of implicit religion as: political and economic ideologies and practices, such as liberal capitalism and communism; nationalism; cultural mores; impassioned social movements such as environmentalism; popular music; and sports. This approach not only inspires students to critically evaluate the narrow concept of religion that is peculiar to modern society; it also makes concrete, intimate, and compelling such phenomena as transcendence, the sacred, and ultimate commitments, thereby deepening students’ understanding of how religious experience imbues the whole of human life.
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