Friday, September 30, 2005
Amy raises some excellent questions in her post. I want to raise a question about a different part of Palmer's piece. In the last paragraph, he says:
"My second negative rule is that I never give any indication of my own religious views. To do so would be distracting and overreaching, and would cause concern for even those students who hold the same beliefs as I....My beliefs will inevitably shape my classroom conduct, so why hide them?...My goal as a law teacher is to convey the material in any given course, including policy, philosophy, black-letter rules, background facts, and all else that is reasonably relevent. Expressing my beliefs would only get in the way of that goal."
I'm curious to hear people's reaction to this. I understand the concern about overreaching. It is obviously important for students to understand that they are not required to approve or agree with a professor's religious beliefs.
On the other hand, my religious views are not divorced from who I am and, as Palmer observes, one's religious views inevitably shape what one says and does in the classroom as it affects all aspects of one's life. In my own case, my students know I am Catholic - some of them see me at mass on campus and I wear a crucifix around my neck.
Given that reality, is it possible to, for example, conduct a seminar that raises religious issues as part of the discussion without the discussion in some way revealing the professor's religious views? And, whether it is or is not possible, is it really so clear that revelation of the professor's views always gets in the way of the goal of the classroom? Might it not, at least in a seminar context, make it easier for students to evaluate what a professor if saying and doing if they understand the context out of which the professor is operating. (Again, the atmosphere has to be such that the student does not feel compelled to mouth agreement with the professor's views....but that is also something I think is important in all cases, not just in matters of religion.)