A gathering of fourteen Harvey Fellows, organized by Randy Heinig with help from Laura Yoder, Bryan McGraw, Amy Reynolds, and Mark Jonas, provided an encouraging forum and some invaluable feedback on a mini-paper in which I define more systematically than I have before my approach to religious studies as a practice of sacrificial listening:
“A Relational, Recursive, Eschatological and Sacrificial Model for the Humanities.” Harvey Fellows Symposium “Christ in the Culture 2017,” Wheaton, Illinois, September 16, 2017.
Here is a pdf of the two-page paper. It addresses an audience of fellow Christians; one of my long-term projects is to articulate it in terms that will resonate with a broader academic audience. During discussion Pat Kain made the important suggestion that I address not only the negative experiences of misunderstanding but also the positive experiences of (partial) understanding that point ahead to the eschatological consummation of that interpersonal understanding toward which my scholarship is directed.
On March 16, 2016, I got to engage in an hour-and-a-half public discussion with James Murphy, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Christian origins at South Dakota State University, on the topic of “Religious Texts & Social Contexts: Challenging Interpretations in a Changing World.” We discussed our different responses to hard passages in the Qur’an and the Bible. I was enriched by my engagement with James Murphy, and with Krystal Smith of the Veritas Forum, which organized the event. Video of our discussion is at http://www.veritas.org/religious-texts-social-conflicts/.
This auto-biographical essay recounts the development of several themes and directions in my work as a Christian scholar of Islam, including my pedagogy of sacrificial listening.
David R. Vishanoff. “Sacrificial Listening: Christians, Muslims, and the Secular University.” In Faithful Is Successful: Notes to the Driven Pilgrim, ed. Nathan Grills, David E. Lewis, and S. Joshua Swamidass, 213-243. Denver: Outskirts Press, 2014. (ISBN 978-1478730354)
A scanned copy is posted here as a pdf file, by permission of the editors, for personal non-commercial use only.
Scholarship and teaching are both forms of human relationship. My purpose for both is to enable the development of further relationships characterized by integrity and by an ongoing process of coming to understand. Both must therefore be governed by the same principles.
The study of religions consists in listening to unfamiliar voices with sacrificial attention, constructing conceptual models that allow one to relate what one has heard to familiar categories, and then subjecting those models and categories to deconstruction through self-criticism and further acts of listening.
Teaching religions consists primarily of modeling and fostering the process of coming to understand unfamiliar primary texts and living voices through the practice of sacrificial listening.
Students should leave a course not with ‘talking knowledge’ – the ability to talk about religion – but with ‘listening knowledge’: a basic mental map, and the moral commitment and analytical ability to use and redraw that map as they strive to understand new religious voices and develop new relationships beyond the classroom.
Since teaching not only enables the development of new relationships, but is itself one form of human relationship, sacrificial listening must be a hallmark of student-teacher interaction in and outside the classroom. Students’ contributions must be given the same quality of attention as the voices being studied, so that they too may spark revisions in my ways of thinking and teaching.
The development of this pedagogy is explained in my essay “Sacrificial Listening: Christians, Muslims, and the Secular University.”
In 2013 I wrote a chapter on the general subject of boundaries and encounters between religious communities for a volume on Understanding Interreligious Relations, edited by David Cheetham, Douglas Pratt, and David Thomas.
David R. Vishanoff. “Boundaries and Encounters.” In Understanding Interreligious Relations, ed. David Cheetham, Douglas Pratt, and David Thomas, 341–364. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
I was surprised to discover how little systematic theoretical reflection there had been on the subject within the field of religious studies itself, but I found plenty of relevant case studies to illustrate the chapter’s argument, which is related to my thinking about sacrificial listening. Many thanks to Whitney Patterson, a University of Oklahoma student who worked closely with me to find, sift, and think through all those fascinating case studies!
The book is a remarkable collection of essays addressing both theoretical topics and specific religious traditions. The table of contents may be found at OUP’s web site.