Thursday, May 28, 2015

Religion As Culture

What is to be done? Higher education needs to be worthy of its name. My proposal is the same that I have made since co-creating the course East and Westwith artist and com- munity activist Lily Yeh at the University of the Arts in 1990. The core curriculum for global education should be comparative religion. Study of the major world religions (in- cluding Islam) is the key to politics as well as art. As an athe- ist who worships only nature, I view religions as vast symbol-systems far more challenging and complex than poststructuralism, with its myopic focus on social structures. Poststructuralism has no metaphysics and is therefore inca- pable of spirituality or sublimity. There has been wave after wave of influences from Asian religion over the century and a half since Emerson and Madame Blavatsky, but the result- ant New Age movement is choked with debris—with trivia, silliness, mumbo-jumbo, flimflam, and outright falsehoods. The first step in any solution is a return to originsto the primary texts of sacred literature, supported by art history and archaeology.
The religious impulse of the sixties must be rescued from the wreckage and redeemed. The exposure to Hinduism and Buddhism that my generation had to get haphazardly from contemporary literature and music should be formalized and standardized for basic education. What students need to ne- gotiate their way through the New Age fog is scholarly knowledge of ancient and medieval history, from early pa- gan nature cults through the embattled consolidation of Christian theology. Teaching religion as culture rather than as morality also gives students the intellectual freedom to find the ethical principles at the heart of every religion.

Camille Paglia

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