Religion and the Postmodern Student
For this semester I will be offering my reflections on an introductory, freshmen-level course on western core texts that I am teaching.   By the second week into the semester, my students have finished reading excerpts of Martin Luther’s “Treatise on Christian Liberty,” John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the Cannons and Decrees… The post Religion and the Postmodern Student appeared first on VoegelinView.

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For this semester I will be offering my reflections on an introductory, freshmen-level course on western core texts that I am teaching.

 

By the second week into the semester, my students have finished reading excerpts of Martin Luther’s “Treatise on Christian Liberty,” John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the Cannons and Decrees from the Council of Trent. Their reactions ranged from concurrence, confirming their own personal religious beliefs, to confusion, not sure what to make the author was a friend or foe, to outright skepticism, passively-aggressively but politely rejecting values contrary to theirs. Being mostly Protestant of various denominations, the students’ reactions to the texts didn’t surprised me. What surprised me is that they still sincerely believed.
Or, more precisely, not that they believed but they were open and forthright about it without the acquired skepticism that previous generations of college students had acquired. Part of it, I suspect, is because we are in the “Christ-haunted” South where religion is infused in the public culture which one doesn’t find in the commercial North or utopian West; part of it is that I teach at a religious institution that embraces Christianity as part of its mission and marketing; and part of it is generational where young people are taught to be cheerful, tolerant, earnest, and therapeutically affirming. Because of these reasons, students were open to share their own beliefs in relation to the texts we were reading.
This willingness to speak about your personal religious belief while at the same time not be judgmental is, on the one hand, commendable, for nobody likes to be around proselytizing dogmatists, but, on the other hand, can strike one as superficial, a “live-and-let-live” type of attitude underscored not by a form of tolerance or civility but cultural and philosophical relativism. Instead of dialogue and conversations, a genuine exploration of fundamental commonalities and divergences, ideas from texts are cut and pasted to support one’s preconceived beliefs. This is not the fault of the students, for they are merely products of postmodernity. It is liberal education’s role to try to get them to move past this.
By the end of the second week, when wrestling with certain questions – the relationship between faith and good works, God’s omnipotence and human predestination, the need for sacraments in a modern world devoid of the divine – the students reacted with genuine curiosity, going beyond their initial earnestness to thoughtful reflection. Although they snapped back to their preformed selves once we were finished with a particular question and text, the students could see for a brief moment something beyond themselves and what they believed. Whether this work was a result of their faith or something else is a mystery, probably more to them than to me. But it was a promising start to another pandemic semester.

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