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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

Bias can be a good thing

I, or rather my opinion, was shot down by a professor. Not a pleasant experience. Rewarding, yes. Pleasant, no.

I can’t say this has happened to me many times before — not that I am never wrong, far from it, but I generally don’t speak up unless I am certain of my response.

During a religious studies course, the instructor posed the question to the class of whether or not we thought it was in our best interest for this class to be taught by an individual that adheres to the religion he or she is teaching.

For me, the answer was simple — we would benefit most from an instructor that personally practiced the religion he or she was teaching and not vice versa.

Being one of only a few students that maintained this opinion, I was called on to explain my reasoning before the class.

I began with a joke about why we focus on primary sources over secondary sources but eventually sunk into a discussion about authenticity, honesty and the different perspective we would be exposed to as a result.

After my time was up, the instructor kindly indicated that he did not agree with me — at least not wholeheartedly — and solicited another opinion from the class.

I should point out that the instructor refused to say if he himself was a practitioner of the religion or not.

Several people talked, including the professor, and it became apparent where they took issue.

Many students felt that it would create an opportunity for indoctrination rather than education, some felt that the separation of church and state could not be properly maintained and, lastly, there was talk of increased bias in such a situation.

All three appear to me to be weak arguments.

First, if the fact that an instructor firmly believes in what he or she is teaching means he is indoctrinating rather than teaching, then almost every instructor here at IU would be guilty.

Not to mention how condescending it is to the student. Regardless of how passionate, firm or adherent my professor is to anything at the end of the day, I still have the choice to accept what he is saying or not.

Yes, we are young and, yes, we are impressionable, but to think of us as sheep blindly following whatever is said from the front of the classroom is a little bit insulting, at least to me.

Second, whether or not the instructor believes the religion he or she is teaching doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day he isn’t leading a religious service, but a class.

And if we conflate the two, the entire religious studies department would have to be shut down, and we would lose an interesting, challenging assortment of classes that add overall well-roundedness to the students enrolled.

Lastly, we come to the question of bias. And I think here we need to be careful.

Of course, bias in many instances is harmful, prejudiced and lacking educational value. But there is a sense where its presence could be, and I am afraid to say it, helpful.

The purpose of any religious studies is to present a particular religion in an authentic, honest way — bias and all — so that we might better understand those who adhere to it and the social implications of their presence in our societies.

The term bias means to favor one thing over another. By its very definition every religious tradition is biased.

Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. If we truly want to understand the variety of perspectives in this world, we need to be willing to take them in all their glory, favoritisms and all.

That is why I would rather learn about Buddhism from a Buddhist or atheism from an atheist.

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