APU Careers & Learning Everyday Scholar Online Learning Podcast

Podcast: Studying Religion Connects You to the World

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Podcast with Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts and
Robert King, faculty member, Religion

How do you study religion objectively and without bias? In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to APU religion professor Robert King about applying the lens of academic disciplines like sociology, anthropology, and philosophy to better understand the ideologies, beliefs and practices of different religions. Learn about the study of new religious movements, the problems with using words like “cult” and “paganism,” and how religious studies can help students think critically in a fair and objective way. 

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Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Hello, my name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and today we’re talking to Robert King, religion faculty in the School of Arts, Humanities and Education. Our conversation today is about teaching religion at a secular institution. Thanks for being here, Rob.

Robert King: Thank you very much, Bjorn. It’s a true honor and I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. I love talking about religion. That probably sounds funny to some people, but I think it’s very important for people to be able to connect, or just understanding or talking about religion is an important part of the human experience, of course.

And the first question is: How do educators simultaneously promote academic freedom and respect for all religions? For example, a course taught here at APUS is RELS452, that studies new religious movements from Wicca to Scientology and even UFO cults. How do you remain objective when teaching about such new religious movements?

Robert King: Bjorn, that’s such an excellent question, especially as our society in North America—I won’t just say the United States, I’ll also say Canada, Mexico—begins to become much more diverse. Then the niche markets will then become a niche market within themselves, just to use some marketing terminology to describe religion. You can describe religion many different ways, sociology of religions, anthropology, but in terms of pluralism, I think looking at niche marketing is a good, helpful lens.

And so as the faculty advisor for the APUS Paganism Club, we found that each group has its own distinctive beliefs, so whether it’s Wicca or some of the Norse mythologies, Druids, you name it, that each group has its own very specific ideologies, beliefs, practices that although grouped according to a sociology of religions perspective, according to new religious movements, they’re not necessarily in a line with each other. And although very charitable to each other, the actual belief systems are completely different.

So how I remain objective even within that niche grouping of new religious movements, much less the larger monotheistic religions, Abrahamic religions, that it really is a question of applying whichever academic lens one wants to apply and then staying consistent with those methodologies.

So if we’re doing sociology of religions, then we’ll look at the sociological criteria to examine each respective movement. If we’re using more of an anthropological perspective, ethnographic qualitative research, then we’ll use those methodologies.

And I’ve found that especially the students who take the new religious movements course, either if they’re exploring, or if they come from, say, a Wiccan background, they end up doing much more refined research by staying very clear with their methodologies that they’re using. And then just essentially plugging in the subject matter that they want to study and so that way you avoid the typical cliches, rhetoric that, “Oh, that group is a ‘cult.’” But you’re really looking at, “Okay, this is a new religious movement, these are the beliefs, this is the history, this is the history of, perhaps it’s a re-appropriation of an earlier tradition that is thousands of years old, but it’s new since, say, the 1970s or 1980s.”

So as long as the students are consistent in their application of whichever ancillary discipline to religious studies, whether it’s sociology, anthropology, sometimes philosophy of religion as well, then the students really write incredible research papers and they really get excited about the material.

Start a Philosophy degree at American Public University.

So I think the best thing is just staying consistent with whichever academic discipline one is speaking from and then essentially plugging in the content and the students really become much more alive in their conversation, very charitable to each other and it avoids all the clichés and rhetoric that you hear in popular media or political debates, et cetera.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that is absolutely excellent, and I’m glad you talked about the rhetoric. I think oftentimes, when you listen to media, media is both wonderful and disappointing at the same time. But as a side question, can you please describe what you mean by a cult and then a new religious movement and then paganism? Because the term pagan has been thrown around so much and I think that discounts what people believed in the past, if that makes sense?

Robert King: That’s an excellent set of questions, Bjorn. I kind of had to chuckle because the original term pagan, I’ll start with the oldest term, actually just referred to country dweller. Say, in Latin pāgānus, I believe is the Latin word, that it meant any traditional belief that was still held as the Roman Empire became Christianized.

So that’s a very large category. It’s kind of like the ancient Greeks. They had referred to anyone who was non-Greek as barbarian, and it didn’t necessarily mean anything pejorative, but it just meant that to the Greek ear all they heard from, say, I don’t know, just north of Macedonia and any other people group, Germanic groups, the I guess, Huns, which became the Magyars later, were words that sounded like bar, bar, bar, bar, so it became barbarian. But the original term just referred to non-Greek.

So in a similar way, as the Roman Empire became Christianized, pagan just essentially meant country dweller who still held to, clinged to the old polytheistic Roman belief system.

So that’s the easy answer. The other one, I would point to one particular scholar, Ernst Troeltsch who really was foundational in the beginning movement towards a typological description of religious experiences, religious movements, even prior to the founding of, say, the American Academy of Religion. I believe that was in the 1960s, and then a full-blown founding of religious studies as a separate academic discipline from theology or history, et cetera.

And from that background, Troeltsch would say, “Okay, you have different types that you can study.” So within that typological description, one term used was sect. So what is a sect? A sect is a small group that is a splinter group, but still largely within a respective tradition. So say like the Seventh Day Adventists. That would a sect within Protestant Christianity that goes back to an earlier millenarian end of the world movement back in the 1800s.

But the term cult, unfortunately, to unpack that term it’s really difficult, because it is a political term that a lot of times popular media especially will throw around just to refer to any group with which, whatever the media representative is, doesn’t agree with.

So cult is kind of a very free-floating term. So rather than having a term that could be very pejorative, because you could be part of that cult. You know, say I dunno people who are Latter Day Saints, Mormons sometimes they’re lumped in with that, or Charismatic Christians or you name it. It’s a pejorative term.

So the most recent movement has been just to group anything that’s relatively new, the last century or two, I’d say the last century especially, would be considered a new religious movement. So it’s just kind of a way to clean up the language using the term cult.

There’s an earlier Latin derivation that I won’t get into about the term cult actually referred to cultus in- in Latin, but that’s a whole different story, so I’m not going to get into that etymological discussion, but just say, in terms of popular usage, it is very political and pejorative, so generally scholars will recommend using new religious movements, just anything founded within the last century.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s excellent. And you know, whenever I talk to people about these terms, I would generally say, “Please never use cult.” Because, just like you said, it’s used however the person is using it and typically, it is negative. And a new religious movement is a much better term, because like you said, it can include anything from the last, typically, last 200 years. That includes LDS and also Scientologists and also Christian Scientists with Mary Baker Eddy. And so there’s just a variety of different things, but if you say, “Oh, that’s a cult,” that’s instantly, I think you think of Jonestown. And you think, what was that one group with the white sneakers?

Robert King: Oh, the UFO cult yes. The Hale-Bopp Comet cult. Yeah, they still have their website. It’s still in existence. They maintain it, the followers from 1997, I believe.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, and I think for those who were alive at that time, everybody will remember that and so when somebody uses the term cult or describes an organization with the term cult, it’s very, very negative. And so, yeah, new religious movement is definitely anything from the last, say, 200 years.

But at the same time just like you were talking about, all these terms should be used very carefully. Even paganism because I watched part of this series “Vikings,” which goes back, I think, to the 12th century in Denmark and Sweden and they’re interacting with the English, but the Vikings were pagans, according to the Christian English. And that carried so many different value implications in which they were polytheistic, but also if they were essentially valued as humans, if that makes sense.

Robert King: Absolutely yes. That’s why avoiding those terms almost altogether, yeah, is usually a good modus operandi, as they say. I won’t say anything more about that, but yes, I agree with that evaluation.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, and that’s why it’s so important to have free, un-judgmental conversations about religion, because word choice is so important. And so this leads us to the next question is: You often refer to the philosophical works of Michel Foucault. How is his work a helpful, if not unique intellectual source for navigating issues of religious difference within post-modern societies?

Robert King: Tres bon et merci beaucoup.

Michel Foucault is one of my favorite intellectuals especially of the 20th century because he was so innovative. Just a brief mention of his biography. He started out actually as a graduate student in psychology. But then as a doctoral student in psychology, he was studying the history of the birth of modern psychology and he gradually shifted to becoming more of first a historian and then a philosophical historian. His genius is really looking at the structures that create thought and then how thought itself can then reshape the structures.

He has been called a post-structuralist in that philosophical school. He rejected that exact term. I believe he passed away in 1984. But what he does is he looks at, say, like the birth of modern medicine. How did modern medicine become an empirical discipline that you could actually study data and try to separate it from earlier views, attached to the philosophy of language, et cetera.

And so he has this wonderful book called “The Birth of the Clinic” that looks at how mid-1800s we moved away from leeches and blood-letting to, “We’re going to study this organ and we’re going to see this organ in isolation. How does it affect other organs in isolation?”

So as a doctoral student in psychology, Foucault was able to see, “Oh, okay. Thoughts also are accompanied by structures.” So say, how do you have the birth of the whole medical establishment, the birth of modern prisons from the earlier medieval and Renaissance, more emphasis on corporal punishment?

So in terms of applying his insights to religious studies, I think it’s important to look at, say, technological advances. How has each technological advance reshaped not just the form in which religious belief is held, but also the content?

So I think the very first major one, obviously, would be Martin Luther. That why did Martin Luther succeed as a reformer within the Christian tradition, but separate from the Catholic Church? Largely because of the invention of the printing press, that although there were other contemporaries of Luther who were saying very similar things about reforming the Catholic Church.

He had the advantage of being able to publish tracts and treatises that he could mass produce and also produce in the vernacular, so he could produce it in just ordinary, common, every-day German that within his context the ordinary people could read, including even translating the Christian scriptures into German as opposed to Latin.

So I think that Foucault is especially important because, as we look at how structures, whether it’s the invention of the printing press or the invention of the modern clinic, how those reshape not just how we believe, but what we believe. I think that that’s really the key insight that Foucault brings to a study of religion per se.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And those are all wonderful and I’m really glad you brought up Martin Luther, because at the same time, the printing press was really taking off. And today, we really take for granted paper. Books, being able to see, really just pretty much anything. And I’m not even talking about the internet.

And so being able to read the Bible, and especially in German, and then for Martin Luther’s ideas and his reformist ideas to spread was so revolutionary at the time that, of course, it unfortunately started about 100 years, 100+ years, of just horrible conflict in Europe. But that kind of technological advance is also very important and it really helps put in context where people are and where they want to go. Does that make sense?

Robert King: That’s an excellent question and I refrained from mentioning the internet for a couple different reasons. One because I think that we’re actually in a period of transition where we’re not fully aware of how the internet will reshape the content and not just the methodology of which we’re thinking. I think once we get two or three generations who are so used to being instantly plugged in, it’s really going to reshape our neural pathways in ways very similar to learning a foreign language, but the foreign language is being online and connected all the time.

So one thought I had was actually that most recently, there was a Catholic saint to be, beatified, not officially made a saint yet, who is the very first millennial saint. And he was an Italian teenager, died at age 15, but just very devout as a child and so, on his own, he invented his own website, how to present the Catholic Church within his context on the internet. And now I think he’s moved closer to becoming actually named as a saint, the very first millennial saint.

And so he’s part of that earliest adopter generation. I think I’m an early adopter for someone who’s 49 years old and the X generation, as they say. That I think we’re really going to see a change in not just the expression of religious belief, but the actual content once we get this full paradigm shift that we’re really in the middle of.

We might be past the crescendo of it, but I think once we get two or three generations who’ve been fully immersed as digital natives, as they say, then we’re going to see some revolutionary changes. I believe we’re seeing it right now as well.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s a really, really great comment on that and it really makes me think about back during Martin Luther’s time, the ones who could read were the educated, the nobility, and plus, the priests and the average person really couldn’t read at that time. And so by having books and for the average person who could read, to be able to then read the Bible really opened up new opportunities in a culture that hadn’t had that opportunity before, because at that point the Word of God came through the Catholic Church, that which then went to the people.

And so like you were talking about with the internet, it’s interesting where literacy rates today are pretty much universal, and so the internet, you’re literally able to find pretty much anything you want, so if you want to read the Bible, it’s there.

But then at the same time, I’m curious to see if it also somewhat fragments into people focusing on just certain elements of the Bible and just kind of focusing on that, and then other people who take a very holistic point of religion and then kind of study everything. So kind of two camps. Of course there’s always a middle where one side is, like, studying everything and even kind of like religious studies, and the other side is really just focusing on what they are really focused on, going into, like, the more sect version of a faith, if that makes sense?

Robert King: Yes, absolutely. The self-selection aspect of the internet especially, I think is going to produce an increasing diversity and diversity within diversity of viewpoints. And so I think that ultimately there will be dominant groups, so you might have sort of a general, say, Evangelical Protestantism that might not necessarily be growing, but it’s a general blanket. But within that you’re going to have a lot of diversity.

I think the publication of “The Da Vinci Code,” the famous Dan Brown novel I think it’s become a number of movies as well. I think that’s been inculcated into what were earlier very traditional Protestant beliefs that now you might have some very interesting off shoots that would be much more within the sect category. But, say, within your ordinary Baptist or Methodist church, individual members might actually believe some quite interesting new things and I think it’s going to be that self-selection aspect that’s just intrinsic to the internet and the growth of media.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I’m really glad you mentioned the self-selection because you’re able to explain it much better than I could, so I apologize. But one of the great things and also one of the dangers of the internet is that if you self-select into, like, a certain aspect of, say, the Bible, you can then find one person in every town in the country and then that group suddenly becomes large.

Where if you’re just by yourself in your town and you’re just focusing on, say, one aspect of the Bible, it’s just you. But then, again, through the internet, you can really find that community, which can be extraordinarily liberating and it can give you that communal aspect, that community health. But at the same time, it could also promote and prompt negative behaviors that are detrimental to one’s own personal health. So that’s a really great comment on that, Rob.

Robert King: Thank you very much, Bjorn. Yeah, absolutely, I think a healthy interplay between and a connection to a concrete, local community and also use of the media, social media, internet and having that interplay, I think that’s really essential. That one can have groups that are, say, too closed off, that there’s not very many of them mostly more earlier 1800s Amish, but they seem to be functioning quite well. You know, just they’re against technology, per se, but I think, yes, you could definitely be sort of very atomized and only connected to the people, say, halfway across the world who believe your exact version of whatever it is.

So yeah, a healthy interaction between local community and then use of social media, I think that’s probably healthiest holistically for each individual and community within whatever religious tradition that they’re in.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Does the question of your own religious affiliation ever arise in the classroom and how do you handle such questions from students? How does your own religious belief systems impact your teaching?

Robert King: Thank you very much, Bjorn. I’ll start with the first question. I wanted to start with the second question, but let me start with the first question. I would say, for the most part, most students do not ask and do not even know what my own religious affiliation is. And if I’m doing that consistently, I’ve now been teaching religious studies since 2005, then I know that I’m doing my job.

Occasionally, I would say one out of 2,000 students will actually ask me, “So Professor King, what do you believe?” And I’m so floored, in a good way when they ask me that, I go, “Oh, well thank you for asking, I’m glad that you’re asking that you don’t know. It means I’m presenting the material objectively or as objectively as I can.”

So I would say how does my own religious belief system impact your teaching? As a Catholic, the category of the natural law, I do firmly believe not in a scientifically positivistic way, which would just limit everything to what can only be seen or proven, I think that there’s some things that according to science, we’re just now on the cusp of describing, according to modern physics.

But I would say that the natural law, in its various forms, whether philosophical going back to Aristotle, the Catholic appropriation of that, I would say Islamic, Buddhist understandings of nature as well, would all view an intrinsic order to the natural world.

Now, we can debate, okay, should we describe this mathematically? Should we describe this chemically? How do we describe nature? But I would say believing that yes, there is an intrinsic order to the natural world, and also viewing the world, here I will say that my own perspective is not pantheistic, that divinity rests within nature, but that divinity is somehow separate from nature.

So that nature is somehow on its own, I wouldn’t necessarily say completely on its own, the 1700s founding of the United States, you had the deist philosophical school that God is just a clockmaker and he just sort of lets nature go on its own. I don’t necessarily believe that. But I would say my own belief system, as firmly within the natural law camp, would then impact my ability to teach according to a number of different ancillary disciplines.

So, sometimes if the subject matter warrants it, I’ll say, “Okay, let’s look at this from a sociology of religions perspective. Okay, let’s look at this from an anthropological or ethnographic lens.” And then occasionally, “Okay, let’s look at this more from a history of philosophy perspective. How have philosophical trends shifted the way we view this material?”

But yeah, I would definitely say, broadly construed within the natural law tradition, which ironically enough, it is transcendent to many of the different world religions which would be more on the theistic side as opposed to pantheistic. So nature is separate from divinity and therefore we can study it and it opens up a lot of room to interact and learn from other religious traditions.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing. And being able to learn from other religions and cultural aspects of religion, I think it’s very important in today’s world. We interact with the world and, well, there’s no way of getting away from that, and it’s not like the olden days when, say, the French would interact with the English and then they would have some dealings with the Italians and then they would know about the Arabs and all the empires of Islam and then there was China way over there, but you would never interact with that because you could only travel based on walking or ship or pony.

And so today we literally have to interact with the world and being able to learn from other people, it doesn’t mean that you’re throwing out everything you know or your own cultural heritage, but you’re just learning from other people.

And it reminded me when I used to teach in the classroom, I used to really love not giving anything away so students wouldn’t know my political affiliation. And I’d also keep whatever my religious affiliation was under wraps, because at the end of the day, I wanted them to guess because just like you said, I don’t want to inadvertently influence them.

Do you find that it’s easy to inadvertently influence students? And when I’m talking students, I’m talking about adult students in higher education. Is it easy to inadvertently influence students, especially theologically?

Robert King: Absolutely, Bjorn. And here I think that making sure that the presentation of the materials is as broad as is possible within a single course. That it’s typologically presented in a way that’s not determining what the outcome is prior to even presenting the material, so like I mentioned the use of the term sect. If one begins with the term, then suddenly any content presented after that would put it in that sect group.

So really looking at any data from the ground up, so whether it’s grounded theory or ethnographic, all the different schools within qualitative research, I think that that’s essential to avoid inadvertently slipping in one’s political views, religious views.

Ironically enough I’ve actually found it’s, especially in today’s climate, less about specific religious beliefs, but I really have found a much heavier emphasis upon one’s political affiliations and it becomes sort of a yes or no, or very binary, which reduces everything down to “Did you vote Democrat or Republican?” In our setting, which, I think it’s very, very essential to not do that and the way to get around that is to just start with the data itself and allow the data to create its own categories.

So it’s the best way. I think it’s not necessarily completely impossible, but I think it’s very, very difficult for any faculty member to not allow his or her views to slip in when teaching. But the best thing is to use qualitative methods like grounded theory or ethnographic research where you allow the categories to arise from the data rather than starting with the categories.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. And to me, this perspective gives places like APU, AMU, here at APUS, kind of an advantage. I know that I’m making a qualitative statement there, but we’re not pushing anything on anybody, but we really want to expose students to the wide variety of different thoughts out there and then let them make their own decisions.

And it’s one of the great things about the contemporary world is that there’s so many things out there that it’s really about making your own decision. And that really leads us to the last question.

You recently gave a conference presentation at the Florida Theological Librarian’s Conference at St. Leo’s University. What role do librarians and class materials staff play in helping to ensure more objective presentations of religious subject matter, whether traditional world religions or new religious movements?

Robert King: Bjorn, thank you very much, and I thank all the different universities here in Florida that promote excellence in scholarship across the board of which since I teach religious studies the Florida Theological Librarian’s Conference would be the primary aspect of that.

I found that librarians and class materials staff, as they are talking more directly with faculty members, program directors like yourself, course designers, course revisers, and having that ongoing dialogue and community of practice, then the materials become much more robust, much more diversified, and I think much more representative of the entire span of what we can teach as any given faculty member or institution, then also much more objective.

So one example, it was about a decade or so ago, I was doing some research on a very little known civil war in Mexico, La Cristiada. It was a time of upheaval in Mexico where it was kind of a toned-down version of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. So Mexico was on the verge of becoming some form of Marxist Communist society and it was a bloody civil war that, to this day, is actually somewhat repressed. In Mexico they don’t like to talk about this history, it’s a little bit embarrassing that all this happened, but if you do the research, it’s all there.

I watched this movie great movie with Peter O’Toole and Eva Longoria called “For Greater Glory.” It was all about this very lesser-known time in Mexican history and it was, I think, the most expensive movie ever made in Mexico, within the Mexican context.

And as I was doing this research to do a conference presentation on just religious historiography, how do you tell a story that’s been submerged under layers and layers of 20th century history? I reached out to a good friend, Phil O’Neill, the senior reference librarian at Barry University Miami Shores and although I was not able to use the voluminous resources that he sent me, I think it was about 13 to 16 books all written in Spanish, never actually translated into English, which is why we don’t really know much about this conflict in Mexican history. Although I wasn’t able to use all of that material, it greatly transformed my vision to see what is possible and what is out there.

I had one other example, way back when I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame, I did a paper in a Saint Augustine course on use of medical terminology in Saint Augustine. I said, “Okay, this is very frequent attestation,” I was just giving kind of a rhetorical analysis of the text and just pointing towards perhaps it’s an influence towards Hippocratic sources. But I left it at that, it was just your standard Ph.D. seminar, 10- to 15-page paper.

But then afterwards, although the professor was quite enamored by it, he thought, “Okay, this is very interesting.” You know, I didn’t have the time to do that, that’s a whole dissertation. It wasn’t until 2008 I was doing an open search and I found that someone had done that exact dissertation from, I guess it was the University of British Columbia, on Saint Augustine’s interactions with Hippocratic medical theorists and how it really was fully present within Saint Augustine, per se, much more so than any of the Latin-speaking early church bishops and theologians of the time.

So I think that’s what’s really exciting. Although I’d say 80%, at least, of what we might receive from speaking with librarians and class materials staff, we might not actually be able to use, it actually does expand our vision so that it might even result in new courses or new programs of study.

So I know that here at APUS, we’re about to start some revised not just courses, but also new programs of study, and I think that that’s what’s really exciting about talking with the librarians and the class materials staff. That it just opens up entire new worlds to us that we would really not know even existed.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s true. One of the, of course, great benefits of having libraries and online libraries is just the access to things. And especially with libraries today, they can acquire different books and different publications and so literally, the world is at your fingertips. Now, that’s not like an internet thing, but it’s really because there’s certain information that are housed in databases that actually are not available just out on the internet.

And so having access to a university library really gives you that access to scholarly writing or scholarly and academic and when I say scholarly and academic, that could also include many, many different things, including theological writings. Is there anything that you’ve discovered recently, via the library, that has really surprised you?

Robert King: That’s an excellent question. I would say that what has most surprised me is the ability to very quickly collate not necessarily the highest level of references, I would say the highest overall quality. Because obviously we want to have the best, the most latest and I try to stay completely up-to-date, I read many different journals, I read book reviews. But sometimes, there’s a little bit of a publishing lag time, so a book might come out in 2003, it’s reviewed 2005 and then it becomes sort of part of the mainstream by 2007, so there is a little bit of a lag time with that.

But I would say that overall, being able to make sure that we’re within that quadrant, I would say of the top 10%, 15% of scholarship, that that’s what’s been most exciting. We always want to strive for perfection. I guess Protestant Reformer John Wesley said, “We’re always going on to perfection.” He had a very specific meaning about that.

But I think that just raising the overall quality so that everything is top tier and then we try to stay up-to-date. And the librarians, they’re going to know much more what’s out there. They will know that most recent Oxford University Press book published on 4th Century Trinitarian Development, or something like that, that we might not know, even if we stay completely plugged in, they’re going to know much more than we will. And I think that that’s what’s really exciting, is it keeps the overall class materials offerings at the highest tier.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent, and I completely agree. And, at this point, a great conversation. Thank you, Rob, for really talking about some interesting and important topics. Any final words?

Robert King: Bjorn, I would just say that as we are going through this transformation in perception, as Foucault would note, due to the internet, that like you do as a father, really, if we could pay attention to how our children and then our adult students passing it on to their children, how they’re learning to make judgments that are fair, critical, as unbiased as possible.

And I think that’s going to be a little bit counter-cultural in in terms of inculcating skills that we’ll be able to read whatever the media is saying, and do so in a way that is fair-minded, not conspiratorial, not off in left field, but also, just not taking everything at face value either.

So I think it’s going to be a period of transition that we’re going to have to pass on to our children, our children’s children, to learn how to use this new technology that’s really reshaped our cognitive wiring and it’ll be fully felt, I think, by the time our children are raising their children. So I think that as we could pass that on to be able to think critically in a way that is rigorous, but not off in left field, as they say.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent, and what you said is absolutely wonderful and I can’t really add to that, because it was perfect. So I’d really like to thank you, Rob, for a great conversation today. And of course, today we were talking to Rob King, religion faculty in the School of Arts, Humanities and Education and my name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer and we were talking about teaching religion at secular institutions.

About the Guest:

Robert (“Rob”) J. King is a Stuart Scholar and a Duke Scholar. He holds a B.A. in religion from Davidson College and a M.Div. in Christian ministry and leadership studies and a Th.M. in theology and ethics from Duke University. Rob has also studied in the Ph.D. Program in Moral Theology at the University of Notre Dame, with an early Christian History minor. He has taught religion, philosophy, and ethics since 2004, including at the University of Phoenix and American Public University.

King has received grants from N.E.H. in 2010 and 2011, Excellence Awards from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) during 2011 and 2012, and an Excellence in Publishing Award (2012). He has presented as a guest lecturer at Barry University (2012), the Global Active Learning Summit, Tokyo, Japan (2017) and Harvard University (2016 and 2018). His research interests specialize in U.S. religious and labor history, historiography, and Aristotelian virtue ethics.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music in his spare time.

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