The Temple of Woke: Are Universities Basically New ‘Religious’ Training Centers?

Eric Hyde | 04 August 2021

It used to be that teachers prided themselves on presenting a subject to their students from a non-bias perspective, actively attempting to falsify their own beliefs on the subject, leaving it to the student to think through the subject and come to their own reasoned conclusions.

This was my experience in my graduate studies in theology. My professors, all hailing from different Christian denominations, presented theology in the classic spirit of scholarship as described above. Though each of them had definite, settled beliefs in their respected fields, they demanded their students come to their own reasoned conclusions based on their research.

Two years after graduation I readied myself for more self-inflicted pain and debt and entered a grad program in counseling psychology at a local state university. The contrast was absolutely shocking.

It was the first time I had heard the phrase “white male privilege” (in fact, I was the center of attack in my diversity class as being literally the only Christian, straight, white male out of more than 30 students). It was the first time I was made to accept professors who checked their privilege, but did not check their biases, and openly held ideological positions which they expected their students to hold as well. There was never an attempt to analyze any theoretical viewpoint outside of the class group-think, and certainly no attempt to falsify the professor’s views with disconfirming evidence or alternative explanations.

The difference between these two college experiences was the shortest distance between two worlds that I had ever witnessed (besides the time I took a boat ferry between Malaga, Spain and Tangier, Morocco—now that’s two different worlds, but I digress). In one we were studying primary sources, debating the professors and fellow students, writing research papers that purposely rocked the boat; in the other we studied only approved sources, would never think of debating the professor, and wrote papers that conformed to the professor’s pet ideology in an attempt to prove to the ever-watchful echo chamber that we were one of the good guys.

Amazing how a private Christian university is what classical liberal education used to look like, and the state secular university is what classical religious education used to look like.

But this is where we’re at on a grand scale today. You cannot find a program where teaching is not a political act. As Helen Pluckrose put it, “Teaching is now supposed to be a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable—identity politics, as defined by Social Justice and Theory.”

To prove this wrong simply enter, say, a program in gender studies, literature, education, mental health, you name it, and attempt to debate your professor, present alternative research or come out with your own reasoned conclusions on the subject. You can’t. Well, you can but you will likely not leave with a passing grade, or an intact reputation (or, if you drive to school, an intact windshield).

And its not a matter of proving anything. Scholars today openly identify themselves as activists. Pluckrose notes a relevant example: “One particular infamous 2016 paper in Generos: Multidisciplinary Journal of Gender Studies even favorably likened women’s studies to HIV and Ebola, advocating that it spread its version of feminism like an immune-suppressing virus, using students-turned-activists as carriers.”

Sandra Gray, activist and scholar, argued that similar to how early universities expected their students to take their training in Lutheranism out to the countryside and educate the illiterate peasant masses, today’s university-trained students should also act as emissaries of the new cause:

“While not suggesting that our students should be out in society professing Lutheran ideals, I would like to think we provide the tools of critique, debate and research to students to enable active citizenship and even inspire some to take up activist roles… there is a need for academics as part of their normal working lives to form alliances and connections, and even at times to become members of political and advocacy organizations. Rigorous research carried out ‘for a cause’ must again be accepted as legitimate knowledge generation.”

Education used to take a stance of informed ignorance (something Socrates taught us all). Higher education was always a place to sharpen oneself in a specific disciple, a discipline that was conscious of its need to learn more, and, ironically, established by way of doubting itself.

Today this equation is absolutely reworked into something we would all expect from a religious cult. Education is now sure of itself, knows the truth and is willing to act on it. The professor-turned-priest and prophetess have an orthodoxy to preach and missionaries to train. The healthy tension between activism and education has been erased.

The university must drop whatever pretentions its still holds. It is no longer in league with the great academy of the past; it has become a new temple. What new “religion” is it preaching? In a word: Wokeness, and it is anything but new. It is no progress to a higher ground. To paraphrase Roger Scruton, it is a regress to barbarism.

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