The following is a guest post by John Erickson, doctoral student in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements. His work is inspired by the intersectionality of the feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric. He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.
I often read on this blog about the effects various religious traditions have on people’s personal and professional psyches. As I sit in class, I listen to people tell their harrowing stories of how they “escaped” restrictive religious practices or were able to “work within” their religious community to attempt to or even in some cases create the change they wanted to see.
Although I enjoy listening to my peers talk about the issues that have followed them along throughout their life, I find myself struggling to personally validate these experiences in relation to my non-religious background. More specifically, I want to associate with your feelings but I just cannot seem to relate in any way no matter how hard I try.
I must admit that I never felt this way until I arrived at Claremont and everyone on the first day aligned with others who were “from” or “grieving from” their religious traditions, I found myself asking, “Why did this subject matter never come up back in Wisconsin?”
Furthermore, after living with an individual who was seriously scared from Catholicism (the tradition my mother tried to raise me in) I began searching for a community and tradition I called “home.”
I found myself relating to Peppermint Patty. While people sat and listened to their religious and spiritual leaders preach weekly and were indoctrinated into whatever religious tradition they hailed from, I could not simply help but “fall asleep.” More importantly, while Charlie Brown attentively tries to listen to what the teacher is saying, I, like my trusty friend Peppermint Patty found myself so bored because I (like the viewer of the cartoon) was unable to actual comprehend what she was saying.
Instead of reading “The Good Book,” I devoured Austen, Bronte and Dickens. I found myself absorbing social and cultural history on a different level than my peers who claimed to have been saved by a man named Jesus. While my classmates went to Bible study to talk about Jesus, I often found myself asking, “Well what about Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Gloria Steinem?” because they were the ones that saved me but no one seemed to care because they did not die on a cross for their sins.
I often wonder, why I do not care, when it comes to religion? Why am I so apathetic to the whole matter? Why do I have no moral opposition to talking about serious issues? In the words of Phil Zuckerman, a Pitzer Professor I greatly admire, why does the sentence: “the hot, sticky blood of Christ” (a line he used to open a talk he gave at the start of my M.A. program) not bother me in the same way as my religious friends?
I often feel that the voices of the agnostic or even the atheistic individual are not taken seriously. Although I align myself with more of an agnostic point of view, I wonder why, when people discover that I did not have a religious upbringing, they brush off what I have to say?
I have discovered over the past two years, after finishing my M.A. in Women’s Studies in Religion that it all comes down to one thing: community. People tend to flock towards individuals who make them feel more comfortable or will listen to their experiences.
Although I did not have a religious upbringing and remain, to this day, very apathetic towards it, I found myself congregating around feminist and queer activists. Instead of reading “The Good Book” or being saved by Jesus, I was saved by bell hooks or Gale Rubin. I worshiped at a different alter but one, that nevertheless, is valid.
I often try to navigate my radical feminist nature with my academic religious intent. How do feminist agnostics, who gather more on the side of Roe v. Wade rather than the First Amendment, navigate their way through a school that is deeply religious?
Although I do not know the answers to these questions, I find myself struggling to accept my place within a School of Religion where the agnostic or even atheistic opinion is not validated. Even though I know I am an outsider in more circles than just religion, I often sit back and ponder what it would feel like for one day if I could just fit in?