Teaching Religion and Religious Teachingrnby Philip JenkinsrnSome years ago, I was in Washington, D.C., for the annualrnconvention of the American Academy of Religion, a vastrngathering of college professors teaching in the area of ReligiousrnStudies, when an astonished cabdriver asked me who all thesernhordes of people were. When I explained the conference tornhim, he whistled and said, “Think of it, 7,000 pastors all in onernplace.” I’m not exactly sure if he was impressed or horrified:rnperhaps he was worried about his tips. But he reflects a commonrnnotion, that to have an academic interest in religion mustrnreflect not only a faith commitment, but an active ministry. Asrnthe director of a Religious Studies program, I am periodicallyrnasked whether I am ordained, or if I am an cx-priest (I’m neither),rnand whether the title should be “Father” or “Reverend”rn(each has its arcane charms).rnThe sheer scale of the academic enterprise called ReligiousrnStudies can come as a shock to those familiar with customaryrncomplaints about the neglect of things religious in Americanrnpublic life, and especially in the universities, those fortresses ofrnwhat Stephen L. Carter has termed the “culture of disbelief.”rnIn fact, most American universities, even the most avowedlyrnsecular, offer some sort of teaching in the general area of religionrnor religious studies. But while the field of Religious Studiesrnis generally doing very well, its curious arm’s-length relationshiprnwith the practice of religion has created a paradoxicalrnenvironment that may well be unique within the academicrnworld, in which the application of lived experience is often discouraged.rnIn public universities at least, religion must of necessityrnbe taught as something that those people over there do, notrnwhat “we” do. We must always be cautious about crossing therndreaded borderline that leads us into advocacy: from teachingrnabout religion to teaching religion. One consequence is thatrnwhile all religions may be studied and taught, least attention isrnPhilip Jenkins is head of the ReUgious Studies program at PennrnState University and the author, most recently, of Pedophilesrnand Priests: Anatomy of a Social Crisis (Oxford).rngenerally paid to those traditions in which students are likely tornhave a serious or direct interest, and which are most likely tornhave an impact on the real world. All this at a time when an understandingrnof religion and religious motivation may for mostrneducated people be the most glaring gap in the appreciation ofrnpolitics no less than literature or art.rnThe situation is all the odder because it stands in sharp contrastrnto other academic trends which favor positions of advocacyrnand involvement, and the vigorous promotion of particularrncultures or interest groups. Briefly, if we follow the logic of typicalrn”diversity” programs on a campus, there is no reason whyrnwe should not abandon restraints about preaching from thernlectern. I am certainly not suggesting this, but it is useful to askrnwhy standards of self-restraint and objectivity have to be appliedrnso rigorously in one realm, and abandoned so thoroughlyrnin another.rnThe curious position of religious study in academe can largelyrnbe traced to the flowering of such programs and departmentsrnduring the I960’s, an ecumenical age in which it was far fromrnrespectable to assert the superiority of any one tradition. Therernwas therefore no need to view Christianity as any more deservingrnof treatment than Buddhism or Hinduism, and there was arnsense that Christianity could safely be left to the seminaries.rnMoreover, the scholarship of mid-century tended to view all religionsrnwith equal skepticism, in that all were largely artifacts ofrninterest to the anthropologist or psychologist. There was nornsense of danger that Christianity itself would cease to be familiar,rnnot least because so many of the Religious Studies teachersrnof that period were themselves trained in seminaries or divinityrnschools, and a sizable number were themselves ordained. Andrnthe students were presumed to derive from the wider “Judeo-rnChristian” culture, so why tell them about what they alreadyrnknew?rnResistance to advocacy or proselytizing was also a prerequisiternof teaching such programs in public universities, whichrnwere so conscious of being secular institutions. This attitude isrnDECEMBER 1996/23rnrnrn