Monday, December 08, 2014

Abstract sculptures

This was the final slide of my presentation for what turned out to be the final session of the Theory of Religion class at Chinese University of Hong Kong this evening. (Actually, classes ended last month, but these dedicated students keep showing up for extra sessions.) This was my chance to use the religious studies clip from "The Simpsons," which I used it also as a visual frame for the talk - Flanders (in claymation as it's also a tribute to "Davey and Goliath") imagines a future in which he's married Edna Crabapple and his son Todd is graduating from college...

NED: Wait a minute ... liberal professors ... feminist workshops ...  abstract sculptures ... This isn't a Midwest Bible College, this is an elite East Coast University! [expression of shock] 

TODD: It's okay Daddy, I majored in religious studies ... comparative religious studies. [expression of shock and horror - see above!]

I used the three abstract sculptures as my graphics, one for each of the three short sections of my talk, which canvased reasons people give for doing religious studies. The blue balls accompanied "Transcendence views" - those which see religous studies as the necessary complement to secular disciplines as well as theological/buddhological/etc work. The turquoise blob accompanied "Compensatory views" - those which see religious studies as making up for blind spots in other disciplines. The red thing at center got to accompany my own view, "No consensus on the real" -  in which (as you've heard me say before many times) religious studies is the discipline which challenges the universality/ neutrality of other disciplines as well as theologies/etc.

The talk was fun to put together, but the discussion afterwards was really impressive. Students asked remarkably sophisticated questions, ranging from the scholarly to the personal by way of the professional, and I gave rambling anecdote-ful answers to each. Is religion not a form of organizated schizophrenia? How can you tell if someone's commitment is genuine, and not just in it for some benefit? Is it possible to belong to two religions at once? Can religion be defined? What happens to religious practices when they are commodified as technologies? Does the awareness of the plurality of religions lessen the power a religion can have in a member's life? Is there really conflict between religions? What can you do with a degree in religious studies?

Did I actually answer the questions? In my roundabout way. You try!

No comments: