Cambridge students say theology faculty must fight its ‘racist views’

TESTIMONY on racism from Cambridge Theological School students is to be posted online throughout the Lenten term, in a campaign that has called on the faculty to ‘combat its burgeoning image as an incubator of alt- right”.

The countryside, divine dissent, was created last year. Its stated goal is to “integrate anti-racist and fair practice and expose alt-/far-right influence” in the faculty.

The catalyst was an invitation to Canadian professor Jordan Peterson to visit, from Dr. James Orr, university professor of philosophy of religion (News, October 1, 2021). An earlier faculty invitation was withdrawn after Professor Peterson was photographed next to a supporter who was wearing an anti-Islam t-shirt (News, March 29, 2019).

An open letter to the faculty, released by the campaign last December, suggested it was “difficult (impossible?)” to reconcile the invitation with the faculty statement on race, theology and religion released after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, in which he pledged to “think more deeply about race and learn from those who have been marginalized”. The invitation, and another addressed to Dr Charles Murray, a political scientist invited to address the Cambridge branch of the Trinity Forum Europe, indicated “complicity in the active promotion of racist views”.

Dr Murray’s book The bell curve, published in 1994, linked intelligence to class and race. write in Universitymembers of Divine Dissent wrote that Dr. Murray’s work was “frankly racist in its assertion that there are genetically determined racial differences in cognitive abilities”.

Their open letter warned: “We are aiming for a ‘freedom of expression’ which is nothing but a freedom to promote racist views, as well as to deny the viability of racism as a theoretical concept and a lived reality. . Posted on the website, the letter collected 227 signatures, including that of Professor Judith Lieu, Lady Margaret’s theology professor at the university from 2007 to 2018.

The backdrop to the campaign is a debate on free speech at university. In December 2020, Cambridge adopted a new declaration on freedom of expression. Amendments to a first draft replaced the requirement of “respect” for the opinions of others with “tolerance”, and limited the circumstances in which the university could prevent the presence of a speaker.

Dr. Orr was among those defending the amendments. write for The critic Last July, he outlined a “coddling vision” (of the university), which “insists that while the search for truth is a laudable and important goal, it should never replace the larger goal to pursue equality, diversity and inclusion, or to maximize the psychological well-being of its members”. The amendments were a challenge to “a brazen attempt by the University’s senior management to connect the Coddling vision into the old fabric of Cambridge”.

Member of the Advisory Board of the Free Speech Union, a “public interest body which defends the speech rights of its members”, founded by journalist Toby Young, director of the organizer of Trinity Forum Europe , a Christian charity that organizes forums and scriptoria in universities, he is also an outspoken critic of critical race theory.

His article for The critic describes how the inboxes of university staff had for years been “overflowing with invitations to university workshops, conferences or courses on ‘race awareness’, all of which robotically intoned the pocus wokus of Ibram X. Kendi or Reni Eddo-Lodge or any of the other authors lucratively laundering political activism as serious academic inquiry”.

He is also a trustee of St Paul’s Theological Centre, part of Holy Trinity, Brompton, and one of the partners who formed St Mellitus College.

In December 2021, Signing time reported that Dr Orr was among Cambridge staff who, in 2017, met Charles Vaughan, the chief of staff of Peter Thiel, a German-American billionaire venture capitalist and donor to Donald Trump. This prompted the Divine Dissent campaign to warn of the existence of a “fifth column” at the university that “seeds an ideology fundamentally, even deliberately hostile to the goals and values ​​of the University”.

That month, the president of the faculty of theology, Professor James Aitken, wrote a response to Divine Dissent, sent to all students: “As director of the faculty, I recognize the right of any member to facilitate discussions on matters relating to the law; it does not constitute acceptance or endorsement of such views by that member or the Faculty. . . neither the Faculty nor the University tolerates bullying and harassment against anyone. I urge everyone to act with tolerance and civility towards one another.

Divine Dissent published another open letter to Prof. Aitken last month, making five demands, including a request that the faculty council distance itself from invitations to Prof. Peterson and Dr. Bell.

It should also create a fund “dedicated to the platform of minority scholars within theology and religious studies“, and a timetable for the adoption of an “action plan against racism”. A visiting policy should be established “which ensures that students are informed in advance of invited contributors to their main lectures/seminars, together with an outline of the topics to be covered”, and elected student representatives should have the same access to faculty mailing lists as staff members, “to ensure that student concerns can be communicated directly to the wider faculty community”.

This letter was signed by 17 faculty members and seven directors of studies, including the Dean of Trinity, the Reverend Dr. Michael Banner; the Dean of Emmanuel, the Reverend Jeremy Caddick; and the Deputy Director of Westcott House, the Reverend Dr. Paul Dominiak. In total, it has 93 signatories, including undergraduates and alumni.

To date, the testimony of three students has been published. One recounts that on the student’s first day, a graduate student and a senior member of staff said ‘there were travel grants available for us to go to ‘Bongo Bongo Land ‘. Equally shocking to me was the lack of response from other staff who were present. This incident gave me a clear indication of the culture of the Faculty on my first day, an indication that has since held true.

Another states: “A student told me that during a supervision on the first missionary movement in Africa, the supervisor defended the missionary movements by saying that before the missionaries came and brought Christianity, he There were tribes in Africa that ate each other and that is not a good thing by any moral standard.

The third relates how a speaker called a black student to answer a question. “When the student responded, the speaker asked them to repeat what they had said, as they had ‘never heard anyone speak like that before’. Although the student explained that they were born in this country and that they were privately educated, the professor continued to make them repeat what they had said in front of the class.

“In subsequent classes, the teacher would regularly make a point of pointing out how ‘weird’ the student was speaking, until one day he said, ‘I think you’re the funniest person. whom I have never met in my life”. From what the student told me, they weren’t trying to be “funny”, but rather to answer questions as they were asked. »

Among the endorsements listed by the campaign is that of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, former Master of Magdalene College, who writes: “I do not believe there is any desire to restrict the freedom of anyone or to undermine anyone’s integrity, but the current challenges provide an opportunity for the Faculty to clarify its collective commitments on various topics, including issues of race and diversity. I look forward to hearing that this opportunity was taken and a constructive conversation was encouraged.