Pop Quiz: Are you “out”?
Happy Monday, Doubt Scholars!
Last night at dinner I got involved in a long and interesting conversation about “coming out” as atheist in academia, what doing so actually entails, and under what circumstances it is appropriate to do so.
(A propos of this, some of you may remember that annoying Chronicle article from a few months ago, but perhaps the less we say about that, the better).
Given the success of the LGBTQ movement in recent decades, it is tempting for us, as members of an often dimly-viewed minority, to feel some kind of moral obligation to increase our visibility in the public sphere. By coming out we get to show our colleagues and students that we’re perfectly peopley people too, and might even be able to serve as positive role models for other non-believers. That said, most of us struggled to come up with a classroom situation in which one’s own belief status would actually be relevant to the material or somehow helpful in achieving a paedegogical goal.
This, of course, will vary somewhat depending on one’s discipline and its relationship to religious belief or practice. In music history courses we do often find it necessary to teach students about certain kinds of liturgical practice in order to give them context for functional religious music, but even here it seems that little needs to be said beyond a simple “remember, kids: it’s not necessary to believe this stuff to understand it or see why it’s important.”
Further, if it is generally inappropriate for our colleagues to express their own religious beliefs or opinions opinions in a classroom setting (excepting, I suppose, in Religious Studies), it seems just as inappropriate to make a point of expressing disbelief. Of course, the question probably wouldn’t be quite so pressing if our religious colleagues actually did manage keep those beliefs and opinions to themselves all the time…
Which leads me to ask:
Are you “out” at school? Is there an important distinction between colleagues and students when it comes to expressing religious opinions? Under what circumstances is it necessary to profess one’s (lack of) belief in a classroom setting?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).
Featured image: Pieter de Hooch (1629 – after 1684), Interior with Women beside a Linen Chest (1663).