Re: myth and ideology

Richard G. Calo (rgcalo@EDEN.RUTGERS.EDU)
Sat, 6 Apr 1996 19:44:05 EST

Ronald Kephart wrote:

>Maybe this is a little tangential, but it seems to me that religion is
>precisely the area where it's hardest to get students to maintain a
>cultural relativist perspective. The reason, as discussed by both
>Richard Calo and Bill Lesley, seems to be that they assume that their
>own system of belief is "true" and that others are "false." It's very
>hard to get them to see that that is, in fact, an ethnocentric attitude.
>One thing that seems to help (at least for me) is to use the framework
>in Harris' text "People Culture Nature" where the term "cult" is used to
>describe any particular system of religious belief. This turns the
>students off at first, because they aren't used to thinking of their
>own catholic, baptist, etc. set of beliefs and behaviors as a cult;
>but using that label, I think, helps them to distance themselves a
>little from what is normally a very strongly internalized domain.

I agree. I have the same problem in my own course. While the students
are perfectly willing to discuss the religious/belief systems of other
groups, and to advance their opinions as to the nature or value of
these systems, they rarely make the conceptual leap that allows them
to see a variety of systems from a more cultural relativist
perspective. However, I'm not sure if it is simply that students assume
their own sytem of belief is 'true' while others' are 'false.' I'm not
sure if they assume anything at all. They simply comment on the systems
of others and find it impossible from the outset to ascribe them the
same 'value' 'truth,' or 'belief' that they reserve for their own
systems. Moreover, when-- and if-- the students are brought over to a
more relativistic viewpoint, this tends to be accomplished, not by
accreditting 'belief' or 'truth' (or whatever) to others' systems, but
by suspending or otherwise bracketting their own.