Teachers of Religion, Religion of Teachers

Article excerpt

"You are a Christian?" When students put this rhetorical question to their professors, how should their teachers respond? "Religion is a private matter." "That's none of your business." "Of course, I am a Christian." "Sorry to inform you, but I'm a staunch atheist."

Of course, the seriousness of the question depends on the context of its asking. We might suspect the motives of students who inquire about their teacher's faith in an organic chemistry class. Still, we need at least to acknowledge that considerable proselytizing takes place throughout our schools. As I can attest from personal experience, students do try to convert their teachers.

More troubling, teachers promote their religious viewpoints even when teaching subjects seemingly remote from religion. Recently, one of my students described his teacher's hostile reactions when he wore a skullcap to class. At the first class meeting of this course, his professor described his "born-again" experience and urged students to come to talk to him about Jesus any time. Apparently, he did not welcome what he saw as a Muslim invasion into his classroom. These interactions took place in a course on information technology.

We should not assume that any academic subject matter, even information technology, stands aloof from religious issues and therefore from questions of the personal faith of those who teach them. Religious perspectives play important roles in every discipline--especially in these times when we have managed to blur the line separating religion from politics. However, even in religiously tainted subject areas, teachers who want to can artfully dodge questions about their religious preferences with questions of their own. They can respond to their students by questioning the relevancy of their personal religious beliefs to the larger issues at hand. After all, even a biologist might be a weekday evolutionist and a weekend creationist.

Those who teach courses that include the subject of religion do not have the luxuries of these avoidance strategies. Yet, on further reflection, perhaps, all teachers need to face questions about the influence of religion on their teaching. …