slow freewriting on my thesis… religion un-make-critical-able?

Critical review of issue, like Lisa’s Audience article — may be exactly what’s needed, especially if the response of many in the field is “Well, of course, religion ought not to be excluded — as an identity alongside race, gender, age, culture, class, location, political views, etc, and as a massively crucial issue in the public sphere — so your thesis would be stating the obvious.” But it’s also pretty obvious that religion is often excluded from writing classrooms. It’s pretty obvious we ought to embrace blogs in the classroom. But they are on the horizon (well, very close on the horizon), and so need a model of how to understand / incorporate them, how to understand the need to incorporate them. Michael’s thesis gave us that. Religion is in the past, the thing we left behind. But it’s not left behind in the public sphere. And so perhaps we need a model for how to understand / re-incorporate it, how to reach back into the past and bring it back up to pace with public debates (I know that sentence doesn’t makes too much sense yet) and many writing students’ lives. Vail McGuire (diss 2007) gets into that issue and proposes (though I haven’t read this section yet) that we need to — I’d say like good literacy studies folks, like good ethnographers — look at what theology is telling us about rhetoric and even about composition as well as to look at what rhetoric and composition are telling theology.

I think there are two main reasons this issue is important: 1) the individual, the particular (students’ lives, students’ identities) and 2) the societal, the general (the massive influence of religion in the public sphere). No one can imagine composition leaving out — either consciously or unconsciously — students’ race or gender or economics from our classroom work, from our theory. But we very often leave out their religion.  I know, I know — religion is — can be seen! — as anti-critical. But that’s a very one-sided, even old-fashioned view of religion. But even if that were always true, isn’t that all the more reason to engage it theoretically and practically?  And isn’t everything uncritical at first!? Students aren’t critical of the issue of race or gender or politics or culture or economics until they learn to become critical.  So why treat religion any differently? Why leave it off as the one thing that is irredeemable? un-make-critical-able?

Ooops, gotta go to class.


notes from my conversation with Chris this afternoon re my thesis

Notes from my conversation with Chris this afternoon about my thesis.

James L. Kinneavy’s Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith: An Inquiry (New York: Oxford UP, 1987).

Steven L. Carter’s Culture of Disbelief

David Tracy’s Plurality and Ambiguity (re Augustine and composition studies both emphasizing meaning as thick, relative)

Compare Christian social justice with Composition’s service learning?

Lisa’s Situating Composition: Composition Studies and the Politics of Location.
– issue of composition pulling away from praxis (into theory)

Kurt Spellmeyer’s Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the Twenty-first Century (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003) [Lisa — good source of argument for the personal]
Critique of higher education. Composition is in ideal place to deal with problem.

Kurt Spellmeyer’s Common Ground: Dialogue, Understanding, and the Teaching of Composition (1992) (covers B&E debate)

Gerald Graff’s Professing Literature: An Institutional History
Critiques professorship as transfer of some sacred status to secular academics (could lead to cult of personality)

Lisa and Andrea’s “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy” CCC 35.2 (May, 1984): 155-171
– as model for a review of an issue/topic

Or consider using something like James Berlin’s method of looking through the lens of four major theoretical categories.

And lots more angles and thoughts………… Whew!!! :-)

a start on a bibliography on religion in the writing classroom

Anderson, Chris. “The Description of an Embarrassment: When Students Write about Religion.” ADE Bulletin 094 (Winter 1989): 12-15. (I have a digital copy.) Addendum 01-14-08: here’s a link to this article:

Dively, Ronda Leathers. “Censoring Religious Rhetoric in the Composition Classroom: What We and Our Students May Be Missing.” Composition Studies/Freshman English News, v25 n1 p55-66 Spr 1997 Ordered via ILL 4-10-08 Transaction Number 297674.
ABSTRACT: Notes that it is not unusual for writing teachers to place “religion” on lists of forbidden subject matter. Describes a two-year research project that developed and tested a pedagogy for responding to the unique problems that composition instructors face when intellectually and rhetorically unsophisticated religious texts do cross their desks. (RS)

Added 4-10-08 ABSTRACT: The purpose of this research was to investigate the potential effects of a pedagogy designed to help students avoid dualistic modes of thought and expression when writing about religious subject matter. Specifically, the study focused on the following questions: (1) How might the nature of students’ attitudes toward, the processes involved in, and the products elicited by engagement with a religious topic be characterized? (2) To what extent is it possible to help freshman composition students write about religious faith in an intellectually and rhetorically astute fashion as that is defined by appropriations of William Perry’s model of the intellectual and ethical development of undergraduates for the composition classroom? (3) How might composition instructors successfully address the many problems which necessarily arise when helping students to write about religious values and experiences within forums (including the academy) composed of individuals who may not share their convictions?

The research pedagogy drew heavily on theories of audience and forum analysis, multiple subjectivity and the centripetal and centrifugal capacities of language. The potential effects of the pedagogy were investigated by means of preexperimental and case-study methodology. The primary data (collected from each of forty students in three separate classes) included two drafts written in response to an essay assignment on religion, one written before implementation of the pedagogy, and the second written after implementation of the pedagogy. Other data included questionnaire responses, process journals, revision plans and end-of-the-semester self-analyses.

The data led to the following conclusions: (1) The majority of students did not produce dualistic initial responses to the essay assignment on religion. (2) Some students involved in the preexperiment did improve the quality of their essay on religion after implementation of the pedagogy. (3) Case-study documents revealed that the students’ attitudes toward the assignment on religion were positive. (4) Case-study documents and students’ drafts suggested that certain aspects of the pedagogy were helpful in facilitating successful revision processes for the assignment on religion. (5) Many of the students experienced common difficulties when drafting the essay assignment on religion.

McGuire, Vail H. Unlikely Connections: The Intersection of Composition, Rhetoric, and Christian Theology. Diss. Doctor of Philosophy, Miami University, English, 2007. Ill’d 4-11-08 297763.
ABSTRACT: The discipline of composition and rhetoric and the discipline of theology, particularly Christian theology, are two areas which have often found themselves distanced from one another, especially as they are positioned both within the academy and the composition classroom. Because the epistemological orientations of these two disciplines are often perceived as so dissimilar, the discipline of composition and rhetoric has been remarkably disinclined to include theology and religion among its many theoretical tributaries. In addition, composition pedagogy often conduces to a more liberal sociopolitical orientation, thus promoting further distance between the composition teacher and the conservative Christian student. The purpose for this paper, therefore, is twofold: first, to promote greater awareness among the professionals in my discipline of the contiguity which exists between composition and rhetoric and contemporary theology. There are conversations that are currently taking place regarding how to appropriate religious faith into the composition classroom in pedagogically productive and meaningful ways, but they are not addressing the issue within a theological context. Thus, the second objective is to address the following question: How might rhetoric and composition be informed by contemporary theology? In answering this question, it is important to recognize that Christianity is neither a coherent nor a monolithic cultural identity, something that will be examined at length. In addition, an exploration of the theologies of Trinitarian doctrine and of evangelism reveals how they might speak to the issues of subjectivity, ontology, and social construction, discussions which, in turn, suggest how theology can both inform and transform classroom practices.

Rand, Lizabeth A. “Enacting Faith: Evangelical Discourse and the Discipline of Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Feb., 2001), pp. 349-367.
ABSTRACT: This essay contends that religious belief often matters to our students and that spiritual identity may be the primary kind of selfhood that more than a few of them draw upon in making meaning of their lives and the world around them. Particular attention is given to evangelical expression in the classroom and the complex ways that faith is enacted in discourse.

Williams, Bronwyn T. “Taken on Faith: Religion and Identity in Writing Classes.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(6), 514–518.
ABSTRACT: In exploring her uneasiness in dealing with issues of religion in her classroom, the author asks, “Should I guide students away from writing about issues that explicitly dealt with their faith? Should I impose an outright prohibition on such writing? Or should I find ways to engage with the issues and the perspectives that were so clearly important to these students?” This insightful and reflective essay highlights the connections between faith and identity and the role that literacy may play in expression of both.

Project Ijtihad against the order of discourse

I just came from my Rhetorical Tradition class and from our discussion of Foucault’s “The Order of Discourse.” And I was just reading about Irshad Manji and her Project Ijtihad (the Muslim tradition of critical thinking). Great stuff. Wow, I am so impressed and inspired by Irshad Manji. I’m glad there are people out there who can lead these kind of movements. I am certainly too introverted to do so. But I can write and teach and think (and pray), and I can support Project Ijtihad. And I can say “amen!” to her demonstration that living “thoughtful and faithful at the same time” is not only not a contradiction but an ideal.

Anyway, it’s all such an example of “the order of discourse.” Religions, especially the more powerful ones, are a prime way discourse is controlled. When a religion felt safe from the threat of other beliefs — say, Christianity in Europe in the Middle Ages and Islam in the middle east in the Middle Ages (though, for Europe it was the “middle” ages, while in the mid East, it was a great age)… Anyway, when a religion feels unthreatened, diversity and traditions of critical or independent thinking thrive. Dante, for example, can freely and easily say that there are anonymous Christians (though Chris Anderson says that’s his phrase, not Dante’s), that paganism leads to or sets up Christianity, that anything good or beautiful or noble or right is Christ even if Christ is not apparent there. But it’s harder for Christians to say those things today, if/when they feel threatened by the successes of paganism or non-Christian religions. During those times — when religions feel “safe,” — they have control over the broader “order of discourse,” and so they feel they can allow more diversity of thought within that broader control. It’s control, it’s still the “will to truth,” but it’s also a place of thought.

Anyway, obviously religions and politics and sexualities and cultures are all mixing and rubbing shoulders now. So each feels more threatened. And so each tries to tighten up their control of discourse.

Maybe it’s all a theological problem. If we all had more faith in GOD to control the universe, perhaps we could be less afraid of each other’s power, perhaps we could love each other more, and that love would translate to a freer flow of discourse. And a freer discourse means more truth, I think… though there’s that word “truth” again — a very loaded word.

But I gotta get back to campus, so I’ll have leave the word “truth” there at the end, hanging. :-)

What’s ijtihad?
Ijtihad (pronounced “ij-tee-had”) is Islam’s own tradition of independent thinking. In the early centuries of Islam, thanks to the spirit of ijtihad, 135 schools of thought thrived. Inspired by ijtihad, Muslims gave the world inventions from the astrolabe to the university. So much of what we consider “western” pop culture came from Muslims: the guitar, mocha coffee, even the ultra-Spanish expression “Ole!” (which has its root in the Arabic word for God, “Allah”).

What happened to ijtihad?

Toward the end of the 11th century, the “gates of ijtihad” were closed for entirely political reasons. During this time, the Muslim empire from Iraq in the east to Spain in the west was going through a series of internal upheavals. Dissident denominations were popping up and declaring their own runaway governments, which posed a threat to the main Muslim leader — the caliph.

Based in Baghdad, the caliph cracked down and closed ranks. Remember those 135 schools of thought mentioned above? They were deliberately reduced to five pretty conservative schools of thought. This led to a rigid reading of the Quran as well as to a series of legal opinions — fatwas — that scholars could no longer overturn or even question, but could now only imitate.

To this very day, imitation of medieval norms has trumped innovation in Islam. It’s time to renew ijtihad to update Islam for the 21st century. That’s why I and other reform-minded Muslims have created Project Ijtihad.

What’s the mission of Project Ijtihad?

Project Ijtihad is a charitable initiative to promote the spirit of Ijtihad, Islam’s own tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent. We support a positive vision of Islam that embraces diversity of choices, expression and spirituality. To achieve this, Project Ijtihad will help build the world’s most inclusive network of reform-minded Muslims and non-Muslim allies.

Reform-minded Muslims already exist in spades. Our goal is to bring them out of the shadows. They need to know that Islam gives them the permission to be thoughtful and faithful at the same time. Because they’re not alone, they can have such faith without fear.

Why are you involving non-Muslims?

Progressive non-Muslims are crucial partners in our mission. When non-Muslims work with reform-minded Muslims, they’re sending notice that moderates and fundamentalists are no longer the only voices that count in Islam. When non-Muslims recognize reform-minded Muslims, they’re spurring a healthy competition of ideas and interpretations. Above all, they’re affirming that reform-minded Muslims are as authentic as the mainstream, and quite possibly more constructive.

Some worry that involving non-Muslims is a recipe for “illegitimacy.” We respectfully disagree. If reform is to mean anything, it must involve transcending the petty tribalism that has calcified all religions in God’s expansive name.

What’s Project Ijtihad doing to achieve its mission so far?

We’re sparking taboo-busting debates both online and in person. For example, can a Muslim woman marry a non-Muslim man? It’s a hot 21st century issue, as more Muslims are born in the West or migrate there, then encounter people of other religions and fall in love. Muslim parents and imams routinely tell their children that Islam forbids marriage to non-Muslims. But that’s not necessarily true.

One progressive imam has written a clear, concise defense of inter-faith marriage from an Islamic perspective. It’s become such a popular download — and source of discussion — that I’ve had to get the blessing translated into several languages to keep up with demand. Young Muslim women in Western Europe feel especially empowered by the blessing, as their emails tell me.

Isn’t ijtihad restricted to theologians and academics?

According to the Nawawi Foundation, in Islamic history “even the common people were required to perform their own type of ijtihad by striving to discern the competence of individual scholars and selecting the best to follow, a principle emphatically asserted by the majority of Sunni and Shi’i scholars and their schools.” Read the entire paper here.

Let me be clear: ours is not a call for the legal practise of ijtihad to be popularized. It’s a call for the spirit of ijtihad to be broadened. We believe that anything less is a form of elitism that cements a pattern of submissiveness among today’s Muslims — a submissiveness not to God but to God’s self-appointed ambassadors. This stops peace-loving Muslims from speaking up even as extremists take over.

How can I get involved?

If you’d like to join our confidential mailing list, or if you have translation, technology, and other concrete skills to volunteer, please contact Project Ijtihad’s coordinator, Raquel Evita Saraswati, at

Finally, if you can contribute any amount of money, we’re grateful. In the U.S. and Canada, your donation is tax deductible.

Please use the secure online donation form above or send your check to our mailing address: PO Box 990624, Boston, MA, USA 02199.

Salaam and thank you,
Irshad Manji, founder, Project Ijtihad

Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene!

Oh my gosh, too funny! Check this out. Here’s another good example of the power of reverse rhetoric to add to my collection.

“Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene” The gay Christian part of me just loves this and laughs out loud, while the just-Christian part of me cringes a little, too. But it’s meant to deconstruct and disturb, so one side can feel what’s it’s like for the other side. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I am both sides.

Okay, this one’s pretty funny, too: “Brokeback Mountain: Christian Edition.”

Vicki Tolar Burton article on John Wesley (note to self: get a copy)

Vicki Tolar Burton, “John Wesley and the Liberty to Speak: The Rhetorical and Literacy Practices of Early Methodism.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Sep., 2001), pp. 65-91 doi:10.2307/359063