*DISCLAIMER: ANY SCENARIO PROVIDED IS BASED ON TRUE EVENTS AND ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF THE WRITER.*
*Seminary Scenario 1*: For a final assignment for a biblical studies course, a person of color works for two weeks on a 15 page paper. Over the course of those two weeks, the student is inspired to add on to the works of a person who interpreted the history of a Major Prophet theologically, but still within historical context. In addition, the student sees similarities between the Judeans position of exile and historical experiences of racial oppression, and considers a number of songs related to said Prophet to be valid interpretations of the text. A few weeks later, the student receives a grade marked with excellence, but the comments by the professor are quite strange: This paper sounds like a sermon. Interestingly enough, the student decides to share his work with other Masters students. The other Masters students scoff at the idea that a song written by an uneducated, marginalized people group could ever count as “real” biblical exegesis, even though the student had worked hard to show similarities between contemporary and ancient appropriations of said Prophet. In a separate incident, the same student reads similar comments from a professor whom he worked with on an independent study; what does it mean for rigorous academic work to be considered “sermonic”?
*Seminary Scenario 2*: A class was hearing a teacher give a lecture about how different churches within their traditions conduct themselves in worship. In the middle of said lecture, the professor let it be known that what was wrong with black churches was that ALL (without qualification, mind you) black families were single parented by a black mother. When the one token black student spoke up that she was raise by both parents, the professor dismissed the students’ experience as an impossibility. After the incident took place, a group of white students let their anger be heard through social media.
*Seminary Scenario 3*: A group of students notices that their seminary promotes diversity and inclusion on paper. However, the paper assignments they are given center around the traditional Euro-centric canon, while scholars of color are referred to as marginal or cultural critics. When a select few inform a few faculty of their concerns, the interests of the students are dismissed as petty whining.
End of Scenarios for Masters Students
It was a little over forty years ago that James Hal Cone wrote his controversial text, Black Theology & Black Power. In this book, he makes it clear that he seems himself as invalidating the knowledge of good and evil in US American society in continuity with the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer (140). Much like Martin Luther generations before him (118), Bonhoeffer denied the absolute authority of the religious leaders of his day. The examples of Luther and Bonhoeffer are used by Cone to demonstrate what Cone saw Black theologians and Black Power advocates doing: challenging the truth regime of US American white liberal Protestantism. Rather than assuming that the truth regime was legit and natural, Cone and subsequently, Womanist theologians critiqued false claims of universality by the white liberal US American theological establishment. Cone’s use of strong language against (speaking truth to power, and in love) White Liberals emboldened a group of students at Colgate-Rochester Crozer Divinity School in New York to take a stand a demand a space for Black religious intellectuals. That place became the first to have a Black Church Studies Program.
One curious passage that I wish to look at from BTBP: “Such a value system [from black theology] , of course, an end to the influence of white seminaries with their middle class white ideas about God, Christ, and the Church. […] What is meant is a removal of the oppressive ideas from the black community which the seminaries perpetuate. […] Instead of having course dealing with the theology of Reinhold Neibuhr or Rudolf Bultmann or Emil Brunner, we need to deal with the theology of Henry Garnet and other black revolutionaries.” (page 131). Question: Have you had a course on the theology of Julia A. J. Foote? No? How about Vine Deloria Jr.? I doubt that you have, if I am writing to an undergrad religion major or seminarian. Why? Because the Academy, THE IVORY TOWER, still has a canon that is as white as snow, with the Western, North American, and European experience at the center all in the name of “objectivity.”
As Miguel De La Torre states in his Philosophy of Pedagogy, the classroom is really a room where class exists. That is, our bodies, our privileges, all of our experiences enter one four-cornered, four-walled space for us to read texts that we bought with our privileged monies. However, some students from the get-go are held in higher esteem than others. They are given the benefit of the doubt simply because of the color of their skin. And as such, these students wield a sense of entitlement. This shall be discussed at length in my next post (part 1B on Diversity Matters and Faculty members who are minorities).
PHD & ADVANCED DEGREE STUDENTS
*PHD/Advanced Degree Program Scenario 1*: Because the Academic canon is exclusive and closed, the number of languages one is encouraged to take are limited to Hebrew, Greek, French, and German. When someone asks questions about why French and German only, the members and leaders of the status quo stubbornly insist that nothing of importance or relevance has been written for biblical studies except for in English, German, and French. Of course,
England the majority prevails. What else is new?
*PHD/Advanced Degree Program Scenario 2*: It was time for a PHD student to decide the topic of her dissertation. Of interest to her was a theological interpretation of musician Billie Holiday. Although she had passed her exams and her language requirements with flying colors, a couple of her dissertation advisors wound up dissuading the said PhD student from pursuing her desired topic. They were concerned if she did not address the writings of Karl Barth (a popular topic for today), she would not be able to land a job in the region where she wanted (the Bible Belt).
End of scenarios for Advanced Degree/PHD students.
In each of these scenarios for Advanced Degree students, the problem of the Eurocentric closed Academic canon looms even greater. It affects their very livelihoods, in the end. Should faithfulness to a small collection of books function as a hegemon to regulate how others think? Of course, there should be boundaries between all disciplines, but the matter of interdisciplinarity and canon must become justice issues for seminaries now and in the future.
In the next part of Part1 (part 1b), I will discuss Diversity Matters as it relates to Faculty Members.