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郭建:Teaching the Story of the Fall:A Humanist and Cross-Cultural Perspective

更新时间:2009-06-29 13:09:04
作者: 郭建 (进入专栏)  

  

  “Do you really think a snake can talk?” I remember asking in class in response to the insistence of a few students on a literal reading of the third chapter of Genesis. That was many years ago when, for the first time, I taught selections from the Bible as part of an undergraduate course. I was young, then, and didn’t know better. But, nevertheless, what a blunt question! And further responses I had from this group of students were no less blunt: “Well, it depends on what you believe,” a female student said with all sincerity. Though the class, apparently benefiting from its tolerance for outrageous questions and spontaneous responses despite all kinds of tensions and conflicts, was quite lively, I blush at the bare thought of this particular exchange. On the other hand, it was also a moment of revelation in my teaching career; an eye-opener, as my students would say.

  The course that I have just mentioned is called the “World of Ideas,” which covers literature from four disciplines and two cultures. Since it is a compulsory general education offering on our campus, each section is usually diverse enough to include students from various religious and political backgrounds and persuasions. At the one end of the spectrum are those adopting a dogmatic approach to their religious heritage, like the ones taking a talking serpent for granted. Due to a general lack of literal/scriptural basis for their conviction, they are not exactly literalists or fundamentalists: they have come to know their Bible quite well mostly by listening, and, having not heard of Augustine from church fathers, they tend to think of the story of the fall as the story of the Original Sin. At the other end of the spectrum are those who may have suffered as much from a lack of exposure to outdated print media but who happen to feel much liberated from the burden of the past so as to consider traditions, religious tradition in particular, to be primitive, superstitious, irrational, and irrelevant. Students at both ends are usually more active in class than the moderate but more or less indifferent majority, and this rather silent majority consists typically of faithful postmodernists who sincerely believe, “there’s no right or wrong, true or false; it’s just a matter of opinion.” Compared with my students—to complete this sketch of a typical class of the World of Ideas—I tend to be more enamored than the majority with universal truths but be less confident in my own convictions than the extremes. Regarding the selections from the Bible we cover during the first week of class, I am always eager to share with the class my fondness of the story of the fall as an interested reader from outside of Judeo-Christian tradition: like the story of Narcissus from Greek mythology or the story of sour grapes from Aesop’s fables, it is one of the greatest stories ever told, not so much because it is a foundation story of a religious faith as because it speaks much of humanity in general and of each one of us in particular. But, no, I have never really put forth such a blatantly humanist reading; at least, not in a straightforward manner of professing as I would have preferred but for the lesson I have learned from my students: So much depends on what one believes that no one is entitled to assume the role of a light-bearer, who may just as well turn out to be a self-invited thirteenth guest at someone’s dinner table.

  Eventually, however, I did accomplish to a moderate degree what I intended—not by telling my students what I thought of the story of the fall but, first, by treating Biblical interpretations partly as an issue of intellectual and literary history and discussing the more or less humanist and naturalist readings of the religious fable by late 18th and early 19th century Romantic writers and, second, by adopting a cross-cultural perspective and reading the story in comparison with a passage of similar import from the Tao Te Ching of ancient China. I do not mean to say that these texts were chosen for the purpose of intertextual and comparative readings with the story of the fall as a thematic center; rather, they, including selections from the Bible, were chosen independent of one another for the unique contribution(s) of each to the central theme of the course: the good life, or “eudaimonia” (εÛδαιμονία), a concept that philosophers of ancient Greece considered to be central to all human quests. However, literary borrowings, historical interpretations, and cultural parallels all made the class more dynamic and the readings more connected and more interesting. Only in hindsight do I see that my adoption of these approaches in interpreting the Biblical story, partly as a strategy to speak in another’s voice, also marked my departure from a more spontaneous and more straightforward way of teaching: I have become more aware of the difference between my audience and myself and certainly felt ashamed of my initial bluntness,(点击此处阅读下一页)


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