Teaching for Peace in a Time of Impending War

Introduction to the GTU’s panel discussion on February 19, 2003

by Dr. Judith Berling
Graduate Theological Union, Professor of Chinese and Comparative Religions

It is a tradition of the Core Doctoral Faculty to dedicate its February meeting to an issue of intellectual substance. When we decided on this year's topic (Teaching in a Time of Impending War), we realized that the topic was so timely and important that we should open the panel to the broader GTU and to the community. Welcome to you all.

We are fortunate to have a very distinguished group of panelists: Rosemary Ruether, Professor of Systematic Theology and Feminist Studies; Ibrahim Farajaje, Dean and Professor of the Starr King School of the Ministry, who specializes, among other things, in Islamic Studies; and Chana Kronfeld, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Their remarks promise to be stimulating and provocative.

As we were all preparing our remarks, Dean Arthur Holder sent us an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 23, 2003) by Stanley Fish, Dean of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago. Fish articulates a position often heard in the academy. I would like to share a few of his points to put that position on the table, as it were, before we begin our conversation—not because I expect his position to be voiced or affirmed by our panelists, but precisely because I do not anticipate that. Fish's position can open up or broaden our conversation, and he raises issues that need to be addressed.

Fish argues that political advocacy of any sort is not appropriate to the mission of the university/academy, which he defines as teaching and research. The university, he concedes, should be a forum for a discussion of many ideas, including issues facing the society and culture. But political forums, he insists, should be "extracurricular in the strictest possible sense": that is, they should take place outside of the classroom and be entirely voluntary. Issues such as war, peace, and justice have no place in teaching; the only "virtues" that should be addressed in teaching are "intellectual virtues." He writes:

. . .[T]eachers should teach their subjects. They should not tech peace or war or freedom or obedience or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or antinationalism of any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host. Of course they can and should teach about such topics—something very different from urging them as commitments—when they are part of the history or philosophy or literature or sociology that is being studied. The only advocacy that should go on in the classroom is the advocacy of what James Murphy has identified as the intellectual virtues—"thoroughness, perserverance, and intellectual honesty"—all components of the cardinal academic virtue of being "conscientious in the pursuit of truth" (New York Tmes, September 15, 2002).

As teachers and scholars, we all subscribe to the intellectual virtues, but what of the other virtues (justice, love, freedom from oppression) that are arguably central to theology? And how do we as teachers balance our commitments to "cover the subject matter" with concerns, shared by us and our students, about serious issues, such as the specter and presence of war and violence in Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Korea, and other places around the world?

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