Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hobbes ringtone

Curious teaching moment today in "Theorizing Religion." Our text: The Future of an Illusion, by someone nobody had any prior experience studying - Freud. I suppose that's a blessing; last year's class knew only that Freud was "evil and wrong"! These students - and they're not bad students at all - hadn't heard of the "masters of suspicion" either, at least not by that name. So my work was cut out for me...

Anyway, the curious moment came when I was arguing that the science which Future of an Illusion commends as a replacement for obsolescent and gangrenous religion includes political science. Freud's picture of civilization - necessary so that our instinctive drives don't lead to bloody anarchy, but a continual heavy lift - is a lot like Hobbes'. Did anyone recognize the argument? No. Had anyone heard of Hobbes? Negative. But surely they knew the phrase nasty, brutish...? Indeed yes! All were able to complete it: and short!! But none knew the context or that the formulator of that characterization of human life (actually solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short) was offering an alternative to it, however chastened. They might now.

There's a vertiginous pleasure to teaching in the "open curriculum" of our core-less distribution-requirement-less and largely sequence-less seminar curriculum. Every word you say has to be like a hyperlink, able to open if needed to explain a term, figure, idea, era, movement. But you have to wonder if any but the virtuosically agile among our students are getting the bigger picture. 

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