I have been discussing how I see the separation of church and state when it comes to teaching religious studies in a secular research university.  All of this has been a lead up to what I do on my final day of class in my course, Introduction to the New Testament.   On that last day, if students want, I tell them what I actually believe and why.

I feel constantly torn between two different perspectives on teaching, which I call the Socratic and the Kierkegaardian models.   For Socrates (at least as reported by Plato) (which means that this may be Plato’s view, rather than Socrates’s) truth was truth, and the person who spoke the truth was irrelevant to the question of whether it was true or not.  What matters is whether one can establish through logic, reasoning, and evidence that claims are true or not.  The person delivering the claim has nothing to do with it.  Fools can speak the truth (sometimes) and savants can utter nonsense (often!).

The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had the opposite view.  For him, the subjectivity of the teacher is everything.  In philosophical traditions that can be traced back to Kierkegaard, it is impossible to separate out a person’s personal views – based on their predispositions, views of the world, understandings of reality, assumptions about life, personal characteristics and so on – from what it is they claimed to be true.  None of us can deliver “objective” truths because none of us is a pure object: we are subjects, and everything that comes from our mouths is intimately connected with our subjectivity.

What does this have to do with my teaching?  (I don’t tell my students any of this; it’s just what I have in my own mind.)  I personally agree…

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