Diversifying the Curriculum

I’m running a workshop at the 2019 Society for the Study of Theology conference about “diversifying the curriculum”. We’re talking about some different models of “diversifying”, what the challenges are, and what has worked.

We’ll start by asking what different reasons people have for diversifying the curriculum, and think about what different kinds of “diversity” those different motivations are like to produce. I’ve sketched some possible answers to the question, “why” as follows:

  • Representation
  • Marketability
  • Rescuing the credibility of theology
  • Making theology more inclusive
  • Making theology less racist/heterosexist/classist/ableist etc
  • Making our students less kyriarchal
  • Understandingwhytheology/the world we live in is kyriarchal
  • So we can be/feel like good people
I’m also using some quotations from texts I’ve found helpful for thinking about this stuff, as follows:

“There was the sense that something of a more profound nature than the obsession with property was askew in a civilization that could organize and celebrate –on a scale beyond previous human experience –the brutal degradations of life and the most acute violations of human destiny …It was not simply a question of outrage or concern for Black survival. It was a matter of comprehension.”

Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism

“Thus in effect, on matters related to race, the Racial Contract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.”

Charles Mills, The Racial Contract

I suppose what I keep leaning toward is expanding the “Western tradition” in a way that highlights conflict, rivalry, and appropriation within the “canon” itself — a “great conversation” with more sharp elbows and shouting matches, if you will. Ultimately I want to teach the “Western tradition” as a way of highlighting the contingency and artificiality of the “Western tradition” as a construct.

Adam Kotsko, ‘Constructing a tradition’

I would argue that multiculturalism is a fantasy which conceals forms of racism, violence and inequality as if the organisation/nation can now say: how can you experience racism when we are committed to diversity? The desire to be seen as anti-racist is taken up as an expression of a prohibition, which is what allows racism to be articulated as a minority position, a refusal of orthodoxy. In this perverse logic, racism can then be embraced as a form of free speech. So rather than saying racism is prohibited by the liberal multicultural consensus, under the banner of respect for difference, I would argue that racism is what is protected under the banner of free speech through the appearance of being prohibited.

Sara Ahmed, “Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – It’s an Empirical Fact”

As Jared Sexton argues, contemporary multiculturalism/multiracialism is a “protest less against the genocidal objectives of Anglo white supremacy than the inefficiency of unrestrained violence as the meansof its accomplishment” (Amalgamation Schemes, 200). You can extend this argument to patriarchy and other institutionalized forms of identity-based oppression. It is more cost-effective to include someformerly excluded/abjectedgroups in racial/gender/sexual supremacy, because this inclusion further reinforces both the supremacy of the hyperelitesand the precarityof the most unruly groups(those who pose the greatest threat to MRWaSPhegemony).

Robin James, “Notes on a theory of multi racial white supremacist patriarchy aka MRWaSP”

Teaching is social reproduction, and carries with it the profound ambivalence of all reproductive labour: to form our students into good citizens and useful workers for a society built on violence and exploitation. Often this involves training them (sometimes despite our best efforts) in the fundamentally conservative moral relativism so essential for workers in an economy which prizes flexibility above all else; ultimately our task is to teach them how to survive in a world which ought not to exist…To teach critical thinking must be to teach our students to think critically about what they are being taught and why, about the inescapable antagonism between the desire to be transformed by learning and the need to meet certain criteria in order to get a degree.

Marika Rose and Anthony Paul Smith, “Hexing the Discipline: Against the Reproduction of the Continental Philosophy of Religion”

We’ll ask what challenges people face in diversifying curricula, think about what it would mean to rework our teaching, look at some examples of syllabi I’ve written, think about what has worked well and talk about how we can help one another.

The full slide show is available here and the references for those quotations are as follows:

Sara Ahmed, “‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony Its an Empirical Fact’–A response to Slavoj Žižek” in darkmatter0 (2008)
Robin James, “Notes on a theory of multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy aka MRWaSP
Adam Kotsko, “Constructing a Tradition
Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997)
Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition(Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1983)
Marika Rose and Anthony Paul Smith, “Hexing the discipline: against the reproduction of continental philosophy of religion” in Palgrave Communications5.2 (2019)
Marika Rose, syllabus collection