13 SES 06 A, Educational religious translations and truth in the Talmud tradition
In the context of educational research, serious concerns, and even tensions, often arise at the interface between religion and education. For those of a religious disposition, education (at least in its more liberal manifestations) is often framed suspiciously, on the grounds of its perceived capacity to disrupt students’ sense of religious affiliation or belonging. For those who foreground the educational in such debates, religion is related to in much the same way, primarily because of its perceived capacity to indoctrinate students within a too-narrow conception of the good life. The need for this paper arises out of a desire to engage religious and educational discourses with one another in ways that side-step these legitimate tensions. In this regard, the purpose of this paper is methodological in orientation, in the sense that it attempts to think through how we can enter religion and education into conversation without reducing either to an instrument of the other.
The paper begins by providing an overview of the value of metaphor in thinking about education. Drawing on the work of James Conroy (2004), I make the case for an endorsement of metaphor in educational discourse on the grounds that it eschews the instrumental language of performance that has come to dominate European education in recent years. I bring this commitment to metaphor to bear in reflecting on the specific value of religious language and symbolism in theorising around education. With Paul Tillich (1955) and Anna Strhan (2011) as my primary interlocutors, I underline the affinities between the vitalities of metaphor and the discourses of religion by emphasising the poetic qualities to religious language and symbol. These poetic qualities, I will claim, resist appeals to ultimacy or incontrovertibility by the fact that the function of religious discourse is more performative and signifying, than representational as such. With this poetic understanding of religious discourse in mind, I offer the view that an encounter with religious language and symbolism brings with it a concern for transformation appropriate for education. Contrasting strongly against what is often perceived to be the unyielding fixedness of religious dogma, this transformative conception of religious language is exhibited in the discursive and symbolic open-endedness it permits.
The latter end of the paper takes this poetic affinity between these registers and uses it as a basis for the claim that religious and educational discourses can draw from one another without appropriation. I make the claim that staging conversation between religion and education can be most helpfully enacted in terms of translation, a process in which religion and education can meet, without at the same time merging. Methodologically, I suggest that engaging religion with education in translation requires the mediations of a figure or device (for example, a symbol) that is fluid enough to sustain points of contact between both discourses, while at the same time preserving necessary spaces between them. I conclude with illustration by briefly drawing attention to the symbol of ‘the Abrahamic threesome’, a symbol of my own creation that I used in my doctoral work to translate the concerns of religion across to the concerns of queer educational projects.
The argumentation I engage with in this paper is underpinned by a theoretical sensitivity to the transformative potential of education, a sensitivity characteristic of the works of thinkers such as Gert Biesta (2013) and Sharon Todd (2014), amongst others. It is from this that the paper begins by attending to the impasses that inhabit the interface between religion and education, for these impasses are often characterised by tensions around preserving that which is transformative about education, anxieties augmented by suspicions around the potential proselytism of religion. It is in response to this context that the paper’s argument moves to reflecting on how religious language and symbol might be framed in more transformative ways, and that it is from the basis of this that the potential for translation as an approach to engaging religion and education is stipulated. Interestingly, while the paper’s aim is to think through how religion and education can engage with one another methodologically, it also seems to emulate this very commitment in its method of engaging with religious perspectives (Tillich, Strhan) as an avenue for identifying and sustaining the transformative affinities between both discourses. It is this sensitivity to preserving the transformative affinities between both discourses that makes the paper's project particularly educational in its methodological orientation: it is the fact of education's transformative qualities that renders the task of translation so important at the interface between religion and education.
The paper comes to the conclusion that it is indeed possible to engage religious and educational discourses with one another in ways that allow both discourses to meet, without at the same time merging. It suggests that translation as a strategy is a helpful mechanism for enacting this. The paper emphasises that translating insights from religion across to the concerns of education entails abandoning any crude sense of translation as a matter simply of linguistic or conceptual exchange. Indeed, Naoko Saito offers a view of translation as involving ‘an attunement to what happens in the encounter between different languages … and this … involves ordinarily the experience of a gap – of the incommensurable, of the untranslatable’ (2018, p. 203). It is in light of this that translation erodes any hope at a representationalist view of the world. Translation is less a matter of finding identical equivalences between words or images (it is not about representation, in other words), and more a matter of performatively reorienting our ways of thinking in the face of the mysteriousness of language itself. For me, this is important in allowing religion and education to converse with one another without at the same time becoming identified with one another. Translating the insights of religion to the concerns of education is, in other words, to be situated at the point at which ‘paths of thought intersect’ between the two registers, without conflating (Saito, 2018, p. 203). The paper maps out a methodology with the potential to create spaces in which the metaphors, symbols, and tropes of the language of religion can speak to the commitments of education without the latter discourse being rendered reducible to the former (or, indeed, vice versa).
Biesta, G., 2013. The Beautiful Risk of Education. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Conroy, J., 2004. Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Imagination, Education, and Democracy. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. Saito, N., 2018. Philosophy, Translation and the Anxieties of Inclusion. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 52(2), pp. 197-213. Standish, P. & Saito, N., 2017. Stanley Cavell and Philosophy as Translation: 'The Truth is Translated'. London: Rowman & Littlefield. Strhan, A., 2011. Religious language as poetry: Heidegger's challenge. The Heythrop Journal, 52(6), pp. 926-938. Tillich, P., 1955. Religious Symbols and Our Knowledge of God. The Christian Scholar, 38(3), pp. 189-197. Todd, S., 2014. Between Body and Spirit: The Liminality of Pedagogical Relationships. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 48(2), pp. 231-245.
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