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23 April 2013

Southerns 2013

I'll be heading over to the Annual Meeting of the Southern Sociological Society so posting will be limited this week. I will be presenting with my coauthors at 4:00 PM on Thursday in the Fairlie room. Here is our abstract:
The "War on Christmas": Teaching about Christian Privilege

Scholars have begun to recognize a “Christian privilege” (CP) in the vein of “white privilege,” which McIntosh (1988) famously described as being “like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks” (1-2). Blumenfeld (2006) defines CP as the:
…seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to Christians. … This system of benefits confers dominance on Christians while subordinating members of other faith communities as well as non-believers. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant (“agent”) groups while restring and disempowering subordinate (“target”) groups… (195).
Several scholars (e.g. Schlosser 2003 and Goodman and Seifert 2010) have constructed lists of CP in line with McIntosh’s list of white privileges. Christians, irrespective to their specific religious practice or tradition, are indiscriminately privileged, just as even the most progressive of whites and men are advantaged by white and male privileges (Clark 2006). Christians can problematically ignore or deny their CP because they have never experienced the oppression that is levied against non-Christians (Schlosser 2003). Further entrenching CP is the supposed diversity of religion in the U.S., which tends to mask the hegemonic force exerted by Protestant Christianity; the assumption of pluralism in fact allows Protestant hegemony to marginalize religions that are not “normal” (Beaman 2003).

To teach this concept to students, we developed an in-class debate about the “War on Christmas” and holiday expressions (“happy holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas,” neutral winter displays vs. religious displays, etc.).

In the exercise, students are told they represent a community group meeting to decide if local businesses should be neutral on holiday greetings. They are divided up to represent different perspectives. The first group is instructed to argue the belief that “happy holidays” and neutral displays represent political correctness gone too far, and that these emphases focus too much on semantics. The second group is to argue that neutral greetings/displays represent inclusiveness of diverse religious backgrounds. Optionally, a third group can argue that the push for neutrality is “reverse discrimination” against Christians.

A debriefing discussion includes if a Christian offended by “happy holidays” is equivalent to a non-Christian offended by “Merry Christmas.” The instructor then addresses the concept of Christian privilege: the idea that “Merry Christmas” or other Christian displays may be intended as neutral is used to demonstrate the pervasiveness of Christianity and the privilege of being in a dominant group. Anonymous polls measure students’ own experiences with Christian privilege.

This exercise can be used in introductory classes or courses on religion, politics, or inequality, related to conversations about the separation of church and state, political correctness, pluralism, and privilege. As researchers in the South, we examine Christian privilege where Christianity is often the norm and taken for granted. Pending IRB-approval, we will implement this exercise in a range of introductory courses across our institutions.
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