NOTES ON Lizabeth Rand’s “Enacting Faith: Evangelical Discourse and the Discipline of Composition Studies” (2001)

Discusses Stephen Carter’s complaint in The Culture of Disbelief (that religious devotion / expression is too often trivialized) to lead up to saying “My point is that our own discourse at times trivializes and misrepresents faith-related expression” (350).

Under subheading “Christian Identity and our theoretical assumptions,” (351) Rand discusses a few “questions being raised by religious scholars” (351) – their concerns about postmodern academy…
1)    James Calvin Shaap described the antogonism he experience toward religious faith when he was in grad school and argues that, in Rand’s words, “religion should be considered a difference along with identity markers such as race and sexual orientation” (351).
A)    Then Rand quotes George Marsden saying that attempts at diversity actually lead to “a dreary uniformity” (33, qtd 351).
2)    “Christian scholarship” discusses also concern that perspectivism [relativism] “has come to occupy a privileged and potentially dangerous place in contemporary culture” (351).
a.    Roger Lundin and others “fear that “construction” has replaced “discovery” as the key metaphor to describe the way we make meaning, that truth is no longer considered to be “found” but only “made” by our manipulation of language (and its manipulation of us). 352 […] Rand continues, “Postmodern self leaves no room for a religious conception of truth or ethics” (352). To this Rand simply points out that she agrees that Pmists have sometimes been dismissive but that Xtns have been overly defensive, adding that Lundin doesn’t take into account feminist studies or critical pedagogy – these movements show that we ARE defined by narratives (which Lundin had said we’re not), etc.
3)    Daniel Reynaud asserts an alternative to the either/or of religious belief and contemporary philosophy. 352.  Reynaud argues that “the problem with postmodern theories is that they become all-encompassing: “ 352.  Rand them quotes Reynaud as saying something I’ve often thought: that yes, of course, in the phenomenological world (“this world”), postmodern is right to say that human perception is limited, etc. But that PM misses the possiblity of something absolute beyond our experience. 353.
a.    Reynaud also points out that language isn’t as fluid and variable as PM want to say.
b.    Rand then lists a few questions writing instructors could ask their students, e.g., “How does the struggle to overcome sin affect your life and the decisions you make about yourself and others?” and I wrote in the margin, “Duh. this is an old theological question. It’s as if compositionists are simply asking their Xtn students to think more within their Christian tradition, to become better Christian intellectuals (to be more like ME basically!).

Christian identity and our profession (353)
1)    COMP STUDIES APPLIES EVOLUTIONARY THINKING TO ITS TREATMENT OF THEORIES. New is Good. Rand then discusses Roskelly and Ronald’s Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Possiblity of Teaching (1998) in which “one of the main points of their argument is that because we have embraced evolutionary models of development and change in our theories of learning since the time of Darwin, we continue to take a linear, survival-of-the-fittest approach to the making of knowledge. This approach “relies on replaclement as necessary and desirabley, and on novelty as necessarily more complex, more ‘fit’ – and therefore better” (101)”. (353)  R and R “maintain that the privileging of what is different and somehow “new” always puts theories in competition rather than in conversation with one another” (353).
a)    All this is apparently to support Rand’s contention that composition studies has too often seen evangelical and other religious discourse from students as “outdated” and/or “naïve.” (354).

a)    EXAMPLES of this EVOLUTIONARY THINKING. Rand then describes the many ways in which compositionists have use evangelical language to villify theories it doesn’t like:
1)    HASHIMOTO  AGAINST EXPRESSIVISTS. His “Voice as Juice.” “probably the most vilified group in compo studies, the “expressivists,”…” 354. She discusses Hashimoto’s sarcastic article against expressivism – “Voice as Juice: Some Reservations about Evangelic Compositions” which “goes so far as to say that expressivist teachers are shameless soul-winners” (354).  LDM – Rand quotes Hashimoto as saying that these “voice evangelists” are against the “evils of complexity,” etc. I don’t get that, don’t get how those who emphasize voice and expression are against complexity. Seems they very much are.  Rand questions “whether [Hashimoto] has exmined his own attempts to convert us in his insistence that personal writing generates such a lack of intellectual depth” (354-55).
2)    JOHN CLIFFORD AGAINST CURRENT-TRADITIONALISTS. Clifford, like Hashimoto uses opposite-evangelical language to denigrade current-traditionalists.  He compares current trad teachers to God – “dispensing knowledge and wisdom from a position of absolute authority” (355).  Rand: “A Christian metaphor has been turned against itself, effectively trivalizing the language of born-again conviction and faith itself” (355).
3)    ELLEN CUSHMAN AGAINST the ASSUMPTIONS Of CRITICAL PEDAGOGY. Cushman is concerned about “the movement’s religious talk” and doesn’t want to be “anyone’s savior.” 356.  Rand points to the “Robin Hood” metaphor Cushman uses of activism.  Rand: “…perhaps if we tried to collapse the binary between “rebelliousness” and “religiosity” (even evangelical religiosity), we would find new ways of talking about faith” 356.
4)    LAD TOBIN IDENTIFIES as RELIGIOUS.  Teacher as preacher (or rabbi, in his case). But Tobin also trivializes / disdains evangelicalism: he is “as disdainful of evangelicalism as the next academician” (he says).   Rand: “the assumption that an academician would automatically be disdainful of evangelical faith puzzles me” (357).
a.    TO SUM UP… Rand continues, “I need to be clear that it is not our disapproval of oppressive Christian religious practices that I question: it is the way we call upon metaphors so precious to many devout people. We trivialize faith when we imply that to believe in sin or salvation just isn’t credible or that evangelicalism is so easily dismissed. Our options are then narrowed for thinking about this kind of religious expression in the classroom.”

Christian identity and our classrooms. 357
Compositions have various negative responses to students who write about their Xtn experience: “embarrassment, anger, and a refusal to even consider an essay based on what is termed “dogmatic,” dualistic thought” (357)
1)    JANICE NEULEIB’s description of the AP essay readers, who were “appalled” by such “pious-sounding language” (357)
2)    CHRIS ANDERSON.  CA worries about the unexamined assumptions of his TA (which makes her position somewhat hypocritical); she needs to give religious rhetoric “its due” (13) because describing faith is very difficult.
a.    Rand’s critique: “…although defending the use of religious rhetoric, [CA] makes clear that it must be of a certain type in order to succeed in the secular classroom. According to him, the “testimonial,” “Guideposts magazine type” offered byt eh TA’s student Cathy will certainly fail: “It’s not just the simplicity and superficiality [of such writing] that bother me. I’m bothered more by Cathy’s assumption of authority, however mild, even sweet, which is what I think bothers all of us – not foolishness but foolishness that is unware of itself” (12). Anderson would seem to contradict himself when later he declares that “no kind of lnaguage should be seen as necessarily superior to any other” (13). Granted, he concedes that Cathy’s rhetoric is appropriate in other situations – “a church meeting, in prayer discussions, and so on” (13) – yet that admission seems to count for little. Her “sweet,” “foolish” discourse is good enough only for worship and prayer (and, one would suppose, for Guideposts readers). I understand that as composition instructors we want our students to become more critical and self-aware. But calling their religious expression “superficial” and “sweet” bothers me. Anderson is troubled by the TA’s inability to problematize her own position, yet he appears to repeat the same mistake. He claims to be open to the possiblity of faith-centered discourse but never stops to consider the rather condescending ways he constructs those who identify as Christian” (357-358).
a.    Acts 1:8
b.    Php 2:3-7,9, 2:10-11
c.    Rand is intrigued by the term “witnesses” 359. “Witnessing talk” is the kind of faith-centered discourse about which writing instructors complain most frequently and is the location from which we borrow in our criticism of other theoretical positions within compo studies” 359.
1)    SUBJECTIVITY. SELF. CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain. Xtns need to “die daily.” “This need to die daily is, in a manner of speaking, what we as comp scholars encourage in our own students. Social epistemic rhetoricians in particular posit that none of us are “unified subjects” or “autonomous beings” (Berlin, Bizzell, Faigley). They refute the idea of a rational, coherent self fully in control of its own destiny, though, as many theorists have pointed out, the ideology of capitalism promotes such a view of subjectivity: [quote]. (359) Cf Dively.  “Compositionists call for students to “lose” the notion of a unified self (ultimately oppressed because it is distracted from cultivating greater critical awareness) in order to “find” the multiple and partial self (ideally liberated because it is conscious of the reality of social construction): we act as witnesses hoping to convert others to the faith. Our testimonials suggest that we desperately want our students to “get saved” – to get outside themselves so that a life-changing transformation can occur.” 360
2)    PAULO FREIRE. AUGUSTINE. testimonials and bearing witness… to “ongoing struggles for social justice” 360. “For comp studies, evil results from a lack of critical consciousness. It is a remarkably similar conceptualization to that offered by fourth-century rhetorician St Augustine:” [quote from Augustine talking about  how evil takes away our agency.] Original sin = lack of true agency. “Compositionists who testify to the injustice of racism, sexism, and classism draw our attention to outward evils [cf to Aug’s emphasis on inward evils] created by human beings’ inward lack or poverty of imagination and spirit. This lack is strengthened when others are convinced of its logic or inevitability. We typically argue that agency cannot be assert until the self becomes  reflexive enough to gain a “sense of itself” as socially produced in and through language. Only then, it would follow, can one be set free or “born again” in some sense: empowered to resist cultural codes that create suffering and alienation” (361).

Christian identity and the rhetoric of resistance. 361 ff
Stephen Carter also points out that, as Rand says, “the refusal to surrender one’s moral beliefs to the authority of others is finally “a trait that liberal politics should value, not oppose, for it yields precisely the diversity that America needs” (174).
“Religion, rightfully understood, is a subversive force; thus, if writing instructors want to motivate evangelical students to reflect upon faith-centered identity, perhaps we should start from the premise that religious convictions (even those within conservative forms of Xty) are considered by many to be “radical,” and we should frame our questions in more evocative ways”“ (361)
Rand then quotes RUBIN as pointing out that “linguistic resistance does into arise from ignorance of standard forms; to the contrary, maintaining nonstandard forms often entails considerable language awareness” (Rubin 8).

When writing instructors try to makes Xtn students testimonials into something “more sophisticated,” they “failed to recognize that appealing to the transgressive nature of this kind of subjectivity might produce better results.
1)    Chris Anderson “suggests that it is possible to offer a model of a “better, because [it is] more sophisticated, understanding of religious experience” (15), which strikes me as not only somewhat presumptuous but also lacking respect for the deeply intimate and profoundly personal ways that human beings come to make meaning of what is sacred” 362
2)    Ronda Leathers Dively “also concludes that the dualistic quality of much of their discourse must be reshaped into a respectable academic form” 362  Rand wonders specifically about Dively’s assumptions when Dively says “Many [Christians] who have been fed [a] narrow view of subjectivity may perceive themselves as rigidly defined by belief in the tenets of holy scripture and of faith in the existence and saving power of Jesus Christ. …” [LDM I’m not even understanding what Dively is saying here.]  RAND: “I’m troubled by the lingering assumption that we’d naturally think it constrictive for God to be at the center of someone’s universe.” 362
a.    Dively and Anderson assume this submission of one’s will to X leads to a lack of critical thought. 362.  Rand: but this “kind of obedient rhetorical stance is also considered to be transgressive of the established order and therefore reflects people’s ability to think and act for themselves. Evil triumps when the self is compelled to follow worldly teachings that reflect the enslaved ego rather than the bold and daring ways of God” 363 [nice]. [Cf Romans 12]
b.    “Witnessing talk DOES involved a complex interrogation of the self: it can in fact be thought-provoking” 363
We should ask students…
“to explain how their resistance to mainstream values and culture has shaped their lives and how those outside their immediate faith communites respond to them” 363
Suggestions for writing assignments…
writing about their religious subculture [cf Dodie’s assignment like that]
ethnographic project, interviews…

“I do believe we can challenge students to think further about their religious identities.” 364 … to call upon a quote from [Thomas] Newkirk’s book [The Performance of Self in Student Writing], “the spirit of [the invitation that we offer to students remains] critical. It is one thing to demonstrate an alternative – to extend a repertoire; it is another to try to eradicate a ‘lower’ form of consciousness” (102)” 364.

“Comp studies itself preaches  a kind of born-again faith: we want students to get saved and to resist subject positions that discourage critical awarness. For that reason alone we should not view testimonial rhetoric as anti-intellectual or cliché. Perhaps we should invite students to explain why this kind of discourse has had such significance in their lives. We should promite further conversation about evangelical identity and its central importance to many people’s worldview.” 362


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s