“Bringing to Presence that which is Other”: Religious Discourses, Public Pedagogy, and the University Classroom’

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The relationship between religion and higher education is often characterized by anxieties around religion in the university classroom. These concerns frequently leverage around the assumption that religion is necessarily contentious for the public university, either because of the need to resist the exclusionary privileging of religions in public spaces, or because of sensitivities around the preservation of traditional religious orthodoxies in increasingly pluralist times. Interestingly, both approaches to the relationship between religion and university education rest on the assumption that religion is fundamentally immutable, incapable of contestation, re-interpretation, or change. With the view to moving past the limits of such perspectives, I suggest that religious language and symbol (as two features of religious discourse) are far more poetic, fluid, and open-ended than is often assumed, and that it is precisely this open-endedness that underscores the possibility of engaging pedagogically with religion in the context of the university classroom. In this regard, I trace the affinities between the open-endedness of religious discourses and the “publicness” of pedagogy, suggesting that both registers open up possibilities for new ways of existing and relating in the world that are at once activist, experimental, and demonstrative. I conclude by reflecting on how these affinities offer resources for recalibrating what we mean by student “becoming” at the interface between religion and the university classroom. I forward the view that the poetry of religious discourses offers students the chance to “become” in ways that unpredictably expand and disrupt the limits of religious identity and tradition, and in this way undermine the inevitable alignment of religion with either exclusion or preservation in the context of university life. Student becoming, understood in these terms, becomes less a matter of forming students into a streamlined understanding of religious identity in the context of the university, and more a matter of providing spaces for students to relate to such identities in potentially interruptive and public-facing ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-29
JournalPhilosophy and Theory in Higher Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • religion
  • religious language
  • symbol
  • open-endedness
  • publicness
  • poetry


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