Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education

The stimulus paper by Tariq Modood and Craig Calhoun had some eye-opening facts although it was quite dense as well to read.  I thought it was particularly interesting that they discussed the understanding of religion in the public sphere on page 10, with regards of the transformation of the Christian population and that although a majority is actually calling themselves Christian, they are also ‘thinking of themselves as spiritual or having some Christian vestiges, including some beliefs in the super natural.’ I responded earlier to Appiah’s lecture in this same way — this characterized my faith exactly! I also thought it was interesting that they noted the problem that British society (and therefore also in the field of higher education) to be ’religious illiterate’. Post-9/11, our worldview of Islam and muslim communities have been racialized albeit it being a religion. Higher education governance has, as the paper points out given priority to sexual equality in terms of recruitment, promotions and training for leadership roles. This is a good point because I feel like especially in Britain, the diverse minority religions play a large role in who we encounter daily. The beauty of a campus like CSM is how vibrant and diverse it is, and the understanding that this aspect is as important or should be as considered, is probably comforting to those in that community. From this course, we have now learned that all of these identities make up one’s intersectionality — and I feel that it’s right to bring awareness to this as I am/was never exposed to this prior to this.

But introducing religion and knowledge of religion in UK universities come with challenges and problems as well (Page 19). I don’t have an answer to this, but in looking at my current teaching practice,and  there is no room or time to introduce this into the curriculum. I understand the need for this to be included in discussions, but perhaps there are other ways to explore the topic of faith and belief rather than trying to instill it as a structured, requirement. For example, a colleague in my teaching cohort wrote a brief about designing for the ‘present’. While it is more difficult in my pathway of graphic communication design a project around faith or religion as it seems almost a bit too specific, perhaps designing for community is better way to look at it. We did a brief in the first year this year that was called Designing Empathy. To me, this is being cognizant of others, be it faith, gender or other types of marginalized issues at CSM. I find this a better way of incorporating the idea of thinking about those in the minority (be in religion, gender, nationality, race, culture, etc) because as much as religion is important, it is also heavily intertwined (as the paper also talks about) with all those other issues I just raised. Religion is such a complex issue and while I totally understand the lack of ‘literacy’ among staff and probably students, I think it also can be integrated in ways like ‘The Quiet Capsule’ or something like a ‘Faith awareness week’ that universities can incorporate. I don’t know if this already exists, but it at least promotes conversations and organized talks (for example, bringing interesting speakers in, like Appiah) that allow room for exchange. This, as Appiah noted in his lecture, is probably more important than anything else.

Reflections on The Reith Lecture: Creed by Kwame Anthony Appiah

This was such a fascinating lecture to listen to! I’m so curious to listen to the rest of the Reith lectures. My first reaction was: Wow, this man is really brilliant and extremely smart. Not only could he answer a lot of very, very complex and difficult questions on the spot, but he’s also brought to light a lot issues of relevance. Many of which I am often battling in my mind with the current state of how religion has suddenly (or rather overtly) become a driving force for many actions and opinions based on the idea of what we think is a set of beliefs. I found it particularly interesting to hear him talk about the difference between orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy (the former being a term I have never heard of before!) He mentions that we tend to “emphasize the details of belief over the the shared practices and the communities that buttress religious life.” I think this is totally true in some of the religions we see, and the current interpretation of religion is in fact an ever changing, evolving topic. Appiah brings to light that our current understanding of religion is in fact really about interpretation and re-interpretation, especially in the scriptural sense. However, he also coins a term scriptural determinism whereby if you just simply go by the words of the Scripture, you would think that women are victimized and subjected to a lower class than men, and gender inequality is loud and visible in these passages. He points out that as a contradiction, there are women prime ministers in Pakistan and Bangladesh (where Islam is the state religion) and actually if you set aside these, this same argument could be said for Christianity and Judaism. I think the main take away for me from Appiah’s lecture is that religious identity is made up of contradictions and re-interpretations. There isn’t an ‘answer’ per se, as we can tell from his Q&A session which was brilliant and more informative and interesting in many ways, but he advocates conversation and open-ness with people of contrary views as a way of moving forward and creating community.

My relationship with faith has gone up and down, depending on different times of my life. This is to be expected, of course. Although I am Christian, I cannot say that I follow Scripture, nor am I a believer in every word of the doctrine. Does that make me not a Christian? It’s hard to say. But I enjoy going with family and celebrating the traditions, and respecting those who see this as a much larger part of their identity than I do. I also do believe in a higher being / greater universe than ourselves, so I guess that has some infiltration from the Christian identity. In the US, from my experience, going to church is place of community as well as a place of worship. However, especially in central London, it does that but also is a requirement for entry into many of the good London based primary schools. I have noticed this among friends who are not particularly religious but has opted to attend and join this community because they HAVE to in order to send their children to a good school. I find this quite difficult to comprehend and don’t particularly agree with this system, but unlike how church and state is separate in America, it is very much intertwined here in central London. In some ways, there are benefits and good that have come out of it. You create a very diverse community (people who don’t have to be Christian) to attend the church. While the motive is the same for all, and therefore its a group of like-minded people, it does seem though that it becomes a little bit contradictory in terms of why people attend church when the doctrine or scripture has almost nothing to do with being there. But who’s to say that is wrong right? Maybe creating these diverse and unexpectedly “non homogenous Christian” communities are better than homogenous ones. Maybe the benefits behind this is actually a bigger lesson to learn from than we could have predicted.

Thoughts on Religion, Belief, and Faith Identities UAL website

How could you apply the resources to your own teaching practice?
I found the website quite informative in the sense that it serves as a site to share other professors and academics’ research on faith in relation to art and design, higher education, and other practitioners’ work related to this topic. While faith isn’t a topic that regularly comes up in my teaching, this is the first year that I have encountered a muslim student in my class and I think it’s important to be cognizant of her needs when necessary. I think the site shares a lot of interesting viewpoints and examples hat I’ve never thought of or seen before. For example, I really enjoyed looking through the student’s and alumni section of the site because it shares examples of work that’s been done in the subject of religion and the arts. These are great examples to share with students who may be doing work in that area of interest, as I have very little references in that area. The other piece I learned a lot and loved is the quiet capsule project. I have seen signs for the quiet capsule at CSM but have never known too much about it and the site explains the concept behind it. It is also important and great to know that CSM values religious diversity and needs as part of their campus/environment. Whether this religious diversity is based around an actual organized religion, it is still valuing a peaceful and quiet space for reflective thinking, be that worship, meditation, or just the need for some quiet, me time!

How could you integrate the research/work your students do on this subject into your teaching/professional practice?
I haven’t personally encountered many students who have interest in bringing religion/relgious identity into their work, but when I did mid-term assessments with another tutor, there was a student who was trying to integrate the concept of faith into her work and it would’ve been useful to know about this and be able to direct her to read some of this research material available as well as work other practitioners have made in this field. I think it would be beneficial to share this site to students in my tutor group regardless because it’s important to keep students in the know about what is available at CSM.

Cite examples
This is my first year teaching a muslim female student who asked me if she could step out of my class to do her prayer. I got taken a back bit because I have never had anyone ask me that, but also because the answer is of course, yes! You shouldn’t have to ask for permission per se. But I appreciated her letting me know and it made me think that maybe it’s worth having the first session of the class always include some ‘ground rules’ and my views on topics such as this. I have been thinking a lot more about what it means to set up these ‘ground rules’ and how it’s worth making it part of the class, just as one would establish for any community. Because this is my first year teaching third year students where I get to see them for the whole year, it’s occurred to me that it’s worth remembering to make a mention of this.

Reflections from the Museum of Transology

I did not know what to to expect prior to walking into the exhibition as my knowledge of the topic only scratches the surface, but what immediately struck me was how deeply personal and emotional every account was on display in this show. I enjoyed reading through every single hand-written entry that was shown next to the object, specimen, drug, clothing, etc and found each and every one extremely brave and brutally honest. I was especially drawn to the piece that shows how difficult it was for trans-people to get their way into the NHS system to get the appropriate drugs to start their transition. The vitrine for all the different hormones that individuals had to wait for to get started on their journey was incredible to see. The tags and stories attached were immense. I had never appreciated how significant a moment like locating a drug could be — it signified acceptance, re-birth, and transformation. It was a lot bigger than what a little package was. The other piece that I also learned a lot from looking at it was the letters and documentations that individuals had to go through to certify a gender identity change. We take for granted that not everyone is binary, and yet society, documentation, governments, identity signifiers like passports require us to be binary. This isn’t something that is easy for those who are in transition, or as seen in one of the films on display, those who choose to go through sex change/operation for the top and not the bottom of their bodies. I can only imagine the need to have to prove to the world who you are and needing to get the correct documentation or proof by jumping through a lot of hoops and obstacles to obtain a piece of paper that actually states you are no longer the gender you were born into. While it seems that the voices of the transgender community are getting louder and there is more awareness, our society and infrastructure has not totally caught up. I can see how this is so degrading to those individuals. If there was a need to do something similar in the cisgender world, it would be outraging. The scars and physical pain that individuals endure to make this transition particularly pre-hormones is what also made me pause in my tracks. One of the tags attached to human kinesiology tape showed an account of what this person did before she was allowed the drugs for her transition. She mentioned using duct tape to tape her breasts down in order to flatten it. But the consequences of that was tearing layers and layers of her skin off every night when it came time to take it off. This was what she did until she found this tape made for humans! The scars and memories that these individuals carry are greater than what their exteriors will ever show. That is perhaps the most powerful lesson I’ve learned from coming to this exhibition.

Understanding Patriarchy

—Discuss two things you learned from the text:
Patriarchy isn’t a terminology that I’m particularly familiar with but the theories that explain it isn’t something that is completely new to me. I am aware of social constructs and norms that underline of the meaning patriarchy as explained in the text, but one thing that surprised me is that “contemporary presence of female-headed households has led many people to assume that children in these households are not learning patriarchal values because no male is present” but in fact children in these households are more likely to idealize patriarchal male role because these women don’t have experiential reality to challenge these false fantasies of gender roles. This was interesting to me because it highlighted that women play a huge role in perpetuating and sustaining the existence of patriarchy as much as men probably do if not more. We often put the blame on men, as sexism, male chauvinism, etc, are terms that we associate with men and their sole responsibility. But the truth is, if this starts with education at home and when children are young, then you are fostering an environment and an ability for children to know that you can challenge this notion if it exists, but also feel empowered to know that it isn’t the norm. I do notice that some of my female students always say, ’I’m not sure..but’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about..’ when in fact they do. They feel the need to qualify their work with those words or with some kind of uncertainty, whereas some of the male students are much more matter of fact about presenting their work and exude a sense of confidence regardless of what their work looks like. This is something I feel like I should try to encourage them to not say when presenting their work. I want to foster an environment where students don’t feel like they have to qualify it, but not sure exactly how to do that. I notice this in my design practice outside of the classroom too. This isn’t something that’s uncommon, especially when there is a need to try to ‘win’ jobs, but I find that being a woman, I definitely have to be cognizant of it and make an effort into making sure I don’t qualify my work in an apologetic way.

The other statement that Bell Hooks wrote that I found really surprising was that if a poll was taken to end male violence against women, there would be unequivocal support. But if table was turned and the only way to stop male violence was to end male domination, there would be more hesitation. People don’t regard the two being the same thing which in fact is what Hooks is arguing to be completely related, if not the same. I have never thought of it in this way. I think that’s really interesting because if you ask someone if it’s right for men to abuse women, it is definitely true that all would say no. But then the need to establish equality in the work place for females, while it has become a relevant topic, it still seems like a superfluous condition not as urgent as abuse. I grew up in a very loving household, with equality being something that was often emphasized by my parents between my two brothers and I. I feel like the first time I experienced inequality was at work in my adult life and it’s probably the single most concerning and relevant issue to me. I think it isn’t regarded as serious of an issue and most places I have worked out don’t strive to make it a relevant issue. But larger places tend to make it more of a priority because they realize that for women to fully feel like they can be part of an enjoyable working environment, this has to be communicated to both males and females across the board.

—A question or provocation you have about the text:
I understand the need for change but how do we change this within the classroom if it doesn’t come up blatantly? Bell Hooks doesn’t really mention the ways we can bring it into reality.

Gender Diversity at UAL

— How could you apply the resources to your own teaching practice?
I found the website to be really informative and very useful for me because I have minimal knowledge about this topic but also because there’s a lot I have never really had to consider thus far in my teaching practice. I feel that after reading this site thoroughly, it’s given me insight into being a bit more conscious of my students and their needs. It was important to learn about the different types of trans people and therefore know how to respect how my students would want to be identified. While I have never had to work with transgender students so thus far, I know that it is easily something i would encounter at CSM given of how diverse of an environment it is. I feel like I need to pay attention to this more if I refer them to references or when I write briefs. Also, this is a good point to pay attention to during introductory first sessions with new students because I now know not to just assume a pronoun for transgender students. This is a matter that has a lot more impact and meaning that we know (according to the students blog) so I feel like it’s easy for me to incorporate that into my practice. It’s never seemed to be an issue before however, now knowing this, it is good preparation and knowledge for the future. I also feel like now I have the knowledge and resources to know how where to refer students to should I see that there is an issue regarding this topic.

—How could you integrate the research/work your students do on this subject into your teaching/professional practice?
I have never had students do work or research related to these themes and ideas thus far, but I feel like now I know where to direct students to should there be questions. I think so much of making everyone feel inclusive in an environment that is so diverse as is, is to make sure we are educated in the topic. I think if it ever comes up I would make sure I let students know about this page. I also feel like it might be good to let other staff know about this website in case they don’t already know. This resource has never been mentioned to me before, so I’m not sure how known it is (compared to study support for example), but it might be relevant for me to point this out to my colleagues at the beginning of term. Overall, I have more insight and knowledge on making sure I am aware of the concerns surround this theme within my teaching practice. The student interviews on the site is a really good resource for other students as well as teaching professionals as they offer community but also such an honest account of how students are really feeling regarding this matter.