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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive The Post 9-11 Classroom: What changes have you seen at your university either in course offerings related to world religions and sacred texts, or in your student's lines of inquiry in the area?

SBL: What changes have you seen at your university either in course offerings related to world religions and sacred texts, or in your student's lines of inquiry in the area?

Charles Kimball, Wake Forest University

Student interest in courses on non-Christian traditions at Wake Forest has risen substantially in recent years; the interest level jumped even more following the events of September 11th. In order to accommodate student demand, we have made some modifications to courses on Islam, World Religions, Conceptions of the Afterlife, and First Year Seminars. In addition, the university has focused considerable energy on special programs and invited lecturers in an effort to facilitate learning and constructive dialogue on campus and in our community.

Laura Nasrallah, Occidental College

Los Angeles' geographical distance from New York City and Washington, D.C. might have led students at Occidental College, after the initial shock, to gloss over the events of September 11 or only to turn inwards to consider life's fragility. Instead, I think that our students have enlarged their vision past the campus and their individual lives, and have been interested in investigating the intersections of religion and politics in antiquity and in the present.

In discussions in Religious Studies courses, students have vigorously debated whether religion can be reserved as a pristine site of belief or faith and have interrogated the adequacy of the categories of religion and politics. They have also been attuned to the rhetoric of religious and political struggle. For example, in a course I teach on martyrdom in early Christianity, students have applied their understanding of rhetorical subtleties in ancient texts to the present-day terms "suicide bombers," "martyrs," "murderers," and "terrorists." They see how such language, whether ancient or modern, marks certain political and religious stances, and serves to construct the identity of a community over and against others. A colleague teaching in contemporary religion in the United States has noted a similar phenomenon in his classes: students are sensitive to deployment of "chosen nation" language or references to a "covenant with God."

Finally, students have been sobered by the reality and visibility of death, and, especially as I teach about first- and second-century Jerusalem, by that city and the Middle East as a site of violence over the centuries.



Cynthia Briggs Kittredge,

Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest


I would have expected that the events of September 11th might have had more visible impact on the interests and questions of students of the Bible in my seminary classes. My sense is that the shock of that morning is far from being interpreted or at all integrated into our worldviews, and that that ongoing process has preoccupied our community. I wait to see how the observances of the anniversary assist or frustrate that process of meaning making.

It is in biblical interpretation in preaching and worship, more than in the classroom, that I see preachers and hearers reading in an altered way in a different historical and political context. Before 9/11 the biblical language of violence against enemies and sharply dualistic constructions of insiders and outsiders was minimized or ignored by Episcopalians and Lutherans who are the majority of my students. Now such rhetoric shows up more vividly in a landscape where such language is being used publicly both by the United States and about the United States. I notice that preachers have been more sensitive to this feature of the biblical texts and more critical about replicating or resisting it.

Since September 11th, the conflict in the Middle East has come up explicitly in the classroom. The crisis there has influenced students' response to terms such as "Israel" and "Gentiles." People's strong feelings about the violence there have made it more difficult to caution students from making simple and inaccurate analogies between the references to "Israel" in ancient texts and the leadership of modern Israel. I expect that this teaching will become more and more challenging in the coming year.

Citation: Moira Bucciarelli, " The Post 9-11 Classroom: What changes have you seen at your university either in course offerings related to world religions and sacred texts, or in your student's lines of inquiry in the area?," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Sept 2005]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=101

 
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