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Friday, April 17, 2009

Religion and Christian Privilege - Short Compilation of Thoughts by Leaders in the Field…

Most of the religious hegemony evident in this country is Christian hegemony. The concept of "hegemony" (Gramsci, 1971) describes the ways in which the dominant group, in this case Christians in general and predominantly Protestants, successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as "normal," as universal. The dominant group (in this instance, Christians) reiterates its values and practices while marginalizing and subordinating those who do not adhere to Christian faith traditions.

Based on Peggy McIntosh's (1988) pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can, by analogy, understand Christian privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to Christians, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. This system of benefits confers dominance on Christians while subordinating members of other faith communities as well as non-believers. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual's consciousness and woven into the fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant ("agent") groups while restricting and disempowering subordinate ("target") groups.

Religion and spirituality are private matters between individuals and families. Religion and religious practices should not be imposed upon those who do not as members of dominant groups may believe. We truly need to separate religion from government, and religion from the public square.

Warren Blumenfeld
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
Iowa State University
Co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious
Oppression in the United States, 2009, Sense Publishers

I think asking people who are religiously oppressed or forced to live under Christian hegemony when they are, say, Muslim, to "enjoy the celebration of" Christianity (the privileged religion--as part of a celebration of all faiths) is a lot like asking women to enjoy the celebration of patriarchy or asking people of color to enjoy the celebration of white supremacy. The point is that in our society ONLY Christianity is "officially" celebrated. Anything outside of that hegemonic norm is repressed immediately and harshly, systemically speaking.

This reminds me of doing some work at a school in the New England area. I was doing focus groups as part of an equity assessment. I first met with students of color and asked them what their experience of "diversity" was at the school. They said things like "I feel like a visitor in my own school" and "there's racism here and nobody's doing anything about it." Then, moving from the group with the LEAST amount of power in the school to the one with the MOST power, I met with the upper-level administrators, and asked them the same question. The head of the school responded, "We need to celebrate the joys of diversity." Should we not work, first, on making a society which is just and equitable, so that we can "celebrate" more authentically? And isn't the elimination of the privileged and oppressive religion from the public sphere (just as the elimination of white supremacy or patriarchy from the same institutions) a reasonable point of departure?

I'd be more open to the idea of celebrating all faiths if we could first pay serious attentions to the concerns Warren raised. But the idea of focusing on celebrating all faiths in a sociopolitical climate in which that's nowhere near a reality seems, to me, to be another layer of hegemony.

Paul C. Gorski
Founder, EdChange -
Board of Directors, International Assoc. for Intercultural
Education -