Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Sat, 6 Apr 1996 13:01:51 -0500

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.

Incidentally, most of my teaching on religion takes place in a course on the
Caribbean, where they learn about Haitian vodoun (among other things). So you
can imagine the distorted notions they come in with!

It occurs to me that this religion and mythology issue also feeds into the
evolution-creation debate, and the difficulty we have in convincing people that
creationism as reported in the Bible is a myth (Darwin thought that the
publication of his findings would be the end of religion; to paraphrase Gerald
Ford, if he were alive today, he'd turn over in his grave!).

Ronald Kephart
Department of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL 32224
ph: (w) 904-646-2580 (h) 904-268-4250