How to Get Undergrads to Begin to Disbelieve – Start with the Days of the Week

* This post initially appear on the Practicum: Critical Theory, Religion Pedagogy blog. We are pleased to share this pedagogical piece here on the Bulletin‘s blog and we encourage readers to check out other valuable posts on the Practicum blog.

By Naomi Goldenberg

This is how I try to introduce ideas about deconstruction, discourse, and the chimerical yet enduring nature of the “really real” to my introductory classes:

TuesdayI start by asking them what day it is. Let’s say today is Tuesday. Ok. What makes today Tuesday? Is there an essential, biological, scientific, eternal, divine Tuesdayness out there that makes today Tuesday?  I push the discussion around to the concepts of citation and performance. We all perform Tuesday for one another. In a sense, we pretend that it is Tuesday and that makes it so. We could all decide to perform another day for one another and not show up for class. For example, we could decide to act out Saturday and do Saturday things. We know what to do on Saturdays because we all have learned to repeat (i.e., to cite) the actions that compose our Saturday behaviors. But the performance of Tuesdays or Saturdays goes beyond our little group. Soon, by acting out Saturdays at times when other people perform Tuesdays, we would run into conflict with the timetables and social practices of family, friends, nameless others, businesses and other institutions such as our university and the local transportation system. (We take some detours in the discussion to think up situations in which it temporarily doesn’t matter what day the rest of the world is performing. Camping trips usually serve as one example.) Tuesday is actually Tuesday because of massive longstanding social agreement on local, national and international levels. In a sense, Tuesday is discursively constructed. Once we are aware of this, does Tuesday become less “real”? Maybe a bit. Or, hopefully, does it demonstrate that that which is “socially constructed” is very “real” indeed.

About the Author

Naomi Goldenberg is professor of religious studies in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa. Her research specialties include religion and popular culture, religion and gender, religion and psychoanalysis, and critical theory in the study of religion.

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