we should be doing religion better

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we should be doing religion better

Postby jmarvin_ » Sun Nov 05, 2017 9:36 pm

EDIT: my intended title, "the FIRST BLAST of the TRUMPET against the Monstrous Regimen of Religion Distribution Problems" was too long, so you'll have to settle for the above

this post has been brewing and stewing for almost five years now, and as i’m entering the last year in my quest for my first shiny piece of paper intended to signify my qualifications on the subject, i feel finally like i can present these thoughts in a cogent and somewhat complete form. my purposes here are bivalent: first, to critique the problematic relationship between the mythology and religion distributions and their canons, and second, to criticize the contents of the religion distribution as a whole in a ‘back to the classroom’ spirit. i have the sense that the problems i want to call attention to here only exist because of a (statistically understandable) lack of religion scholars in the quizbowl community, and that were religious studies a field as widely popular as the other humanities and social sciences it would be an exemplary category. but as the token representative of the discipline i feel a sense of uncanny obligation to push the game forward insofar as i can

let us begin with the first topic: myth and religion. as it turns out, the questions of ‘what is myth’ and ‘what is religion’ are far from simple; in a sense, the entire discipline of religious studies is an inquiry into the parameters of these words. there is no simple or catchy definition for either category, and if you think there is one, i’d be glad to point out the issues undoubtedly present with it and all other definitions postulated through the history of the human sciences, but in the interest of keeping this post somewhat focused i’d like to leave a discussion of this for another place and time. the fact is, we don’t need concise definitions to properly organize our distributions and canons in these categories, and likewise we don’t need definitions to see troubling inconsistencies in the way we currently are doing so.

i’d like to focus in on a specific strain of inconsistency regarding how we sort some things into ‘myth’ and others into ‘religion.’ namely, how we treat the myths of abrahamic religions, which is to say, always as “religion” and rarely as “myth.” i don’t think it would be productive to back this up by assembling a litany of answerlines, and i don’t think exceptions to this disprove the problem. the broad sense i get from having played this game for years is that mythological stories from the quran, hadith, and history of islam; from the hebrew bible, the mishnah, and other rabbinic traditions*; and from the new testament, non-canonical gnostic texts, and even hagiographical lives of the saints are always tossed up as religion, and almost never as myth. on the other hand, stories from hinduism seem to be tossed up regularly as myth, so long as the answerline is not a text, in which case it may be tossed up as religion. myth content from other non-abrahamic religions like shintoism, chinese religion, polynesian religion, native american religion, greco-roman religion, and so forth are always tossed up as myth and likewise never as religion, perhaps unless the answer is a text.

mythology is a component of religions, and we already are comfortable designating mythological parts of religions as such and asking about these religious stories as their own category. so why aren’t we doing this with stories from the abrahamic religions? without suggesting that any independent quizbowl writer or editor has any such deliberate intent in their approach to writing, i am inclined to say that this is a product of systematic orientalism, internalized into the framework of the game. there is no need for any one writer to have such a disposition for this to be the case: the effect of constructing a difference in quality between the abrahamic and non-abrahamic religions’ stories is still the result. when rama stalks a golden deer, it must be ‘myth,’ yet when jesus walks on water, it is true ‘religion.’ one can permute this with any examples one likes and see the same dichotomy. this is an effect the religious studies academy has been trying to undo in its discourse for decades, a relic of its emergence from a culture of scholars, stretching as far back as the jesuit missionaries, who approach non-western religions as inherently false and ‘mythical,’ at best a distorted encounter with the perennial truths of christianity.

one could argue that this is more a product of how the questions about abrahamic religions are asked in their particularities: bible stories are typically asked about by tossing up their text of origin, and nobody would argue that a religious text should not be asked about in the religion distribution. to some extent this is true, and we see hindu or buddhist or whatever other texts tossed up as ‘religion’ even as the characters and events from these religions’ mythologies are usually asked as ‘myth.’ but consider how the typical bible tossup is written: with the exception of high difficulty tournaments, one rarely sees anything focused on the history of or scholarship about biblical texts, and instead the clues are a list of story elements from different parts of the book in decreasing order of obscurity. and note also that when tossups about biblical characters, say ‘moses’ or ‘david’ are asked using clues from multiple texts (almost never with clues from scholarship) they are still asked as religion and not as myth.

one line of argument for this treatment of abrahamic myths this would be the recognition of a simple fact: many quizbowlers are christians or jews, and many of these would not characterize the stories of the bible as ‘myths,’ as the word carries a negative connotation, implies factual untruth, and so forth. but how could we support the privileging of the majority at the expense of minorities not sharing in this systematic respect for sensibilities? surely nobody would argue for this.

this is not to say that we should not be asking about religious texts and mythical narratives in the religion section, but rather just that we should be consistent about it. this consistency is not just for its own sake, but for the sake of not perpetuating harmful occidental bias that is ultimately backwards and disrespectful. i see two potential approaches to solving this problem:
1) starting to make the religion section exclusively focused on practices, rituals, theologies, moral codes, religious texts (treated as texts and not as stories), etc, and leaving all narratives for the myth section
2) merging the RM in RMP and loosely subdistributing them to reflect how the game already works, considering the abrahamic myths on equal footing with non-western ones
both of these have downsides. the second option is unappealing insofar as it changes the structure of a long-established distribution. it also threatens the status of non-religious myths (like US folklore, which has been in fashion to toss up for a few years now), though this could be accommodated. the first one requires us to force people to write tossups involving things like jesus, muhammad, and abraham for the ‘myth’ distribution even if this makes them uncomfortable. i think the community can productively discuss these and any other ideas, and come to agreement on a step to take forward.

my second grievance is about the content of the religion distribution as it already stands. for a long time we have been aware of the problems of ‘minor religions bowl’ and ‘jewish holidays bowl,’ but even after these glaring organizational problems are addressed, the religion distribution is still notably not reflective of what religion departments actually study. the “back to the classroom” movement has promoted the presence of topics and scholarship actually studied in the relevant fields in pretty much every category of quizbowl, but religion has for the most part been unaffected by the drive for realification

the religion academy is interested not merely in the content of religions, their practices, and texts, but in understanding these phenomena in a critical, anthropological, sociological, and philosophical way. as such, much of what religion students and scholars read is theoretical rather than factual in disposition. if we want the game to reflect and reward academic pursuits and to be built around real knowledge and scholarly study, we need to give attention to what the scholarship of religion actually does. of course, this is not to say that religious practices, doctrines, events, and figures should not still be the central object of the religion distribution. i am only suggesting that we promote asking about these things in a way that is conscious of the secondary work on them, and that this secondary work become an object of questions in its own right. i have added a small appendix of some important thinkers (incomplete and off the top of my head) whose work should certainly be included in in regular-difficulty quizbowl, as sources for clues about religions and religious things themselves and as things to be asked about.

another thing currently, for the most part, excluded in the religion distribution is religious thought. though old philosophers and theologians from the various religions sometimes make it into the philosophy distribution, modern thinkers working within religious traditions are not covered. in both the secular and religious academy, modern theologians are studied as thinkers and as objects of critical interest and manifestations of religious phenomena. yet i have almost never seen 19th-21st century theologians appear in quizbowl despite their ubiquity in the religious studies and theology departments of our universities. i think it is not unreasonable to suggest that this is something we should strive to rectify.

in the spirit of the above, tossups on stories from the bible and quran (and non-western mythological texts as discussed above) should more frequently incorporate the relevant scholarship. if one studies these texts in an academic context, outside of the occasional literary reading, one will study it in a historical-critical fashion, always engaging with scholarship and textual criticism, and not often preoccupied with memorizing the names of random obscure characters and irrelevant events. that’s not to say these random events should not be asked about, but rather that, as in other categories, the engaging parts of scholarship that are actually studied, as always, should be emphasized in favor of trivia.

at high school and easy college difficulties, there’s not much that could be done about all of these issues, and it’s probably not so important that anything be done anyway. at the highest difficulties, content is somewhat better on including actual scholarship and other relevant things. but this should quite certainly creep down to regular difficulty. naturally this would first have to occur in the tough end of tossups about things currently in the religion distribution, or in the hard parts of bonuses, but eventually this can become even more widespread than that. i have seen some efforts at regular difficulty and above to include clues from theorists’ approaches to religious phenomena, and these are praiseworthy - they should be the norm and not the exception.

i hope this still rushed and perhaps underexamined rallying cry for the improvement of the religion distribution is received not as an attack on the current state of the game but as looking forward to future perfections of our community project as quizbowl writers and players. for my part, i will keep trying to contribute good and interesting content for my writing in the distribution, and would be interested perhaps in editing work at some point to see this vision through.

appendix – a list of some thinkers that deserve coverage in a good, classroom-spirit religion distribution, at least in clues, if not as answers, entirely off the top of my head and thus incomplete and biased toward what i personally have encountered (some of these are already asked about in social sciences and/or philosophy):
old, outmoded thinkers, historically important enough to be asked about: james frazer, william james, emile durkheim, max weber, sigmund freud, mircea eliade, clifford geertz
theorists important to the constitution of the discipline of religious studies as it stands today: talal asad, catherine bell, timothy fitzgerald, russell mccutcheon, tomoko masuzawa, jonathan z smith, victor turner, pierre bordieu, wayne proudfoot
some current, active scholars in the field of particular note: amy hollywood, ilkka pyysaianen, kimberley patton, saba mahmood, robert orsi

the question of a potential canon of theologians (from various religions) is a completely different affair and one i’d like to be engaged in should the discussion occur, but which i don’t think there is space for here.

* one exception is that i recall seeing a myth tossup on hasidic stories, though i think that honestly makes the case i am about to make regarding cultural bias stronger
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun Nov 05, 2017 10:01 pm

People with academic credentials in specific fields often ask that we test for knowledge of up-to-date academic scholarship in those fields. Usually I'm very skeptical that anyone interested in the subject outside the confines of academia would or should care about that scholarship. Is there any particular reason this is different?
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sun Nov 05, 2017 10:06 pm

I'm probably guilty of a lot of these odd / questionable distinctions myself, but I think for the most part that this post is correct. For practical purposes (distribution-wise) the current R/M setup works reasonably well, but philosophically it doesn't strike me as very sound or consistent.

For what it's worth, I've submitted tossups before explicitly designated as "religion" because they were clued from the state religion of Athens, and nonetheless got classified as "myth" - was very glad to see this didn't happen with my Tenochtitlan question for Chicago Open 2016 (which Matt Jackson worked into a question on Aztecs). The distribution of This Tournament Is A Crime reflected similar distinctions in many ways - Yahweh was tossed up in the Legends distribution, for example. At the risk of wading into ideological territory, I think the lack of apparent historical precedent for a number of Biblical stories makes it somewhat tenuous to think of them as anything other than myths / stories if you're going to lump Agamemnon into that category as well. That said, the connotation of the word "myth" does seem to have the ability to upset people if their beliefs are said to be such, so the word "Legends" does seem to be a more semantically neutral / otherwise superior label.

I've encountered a fair amount of Biblical scholarship in my casual readings, but not as much the names John mentioned (apart from Asad).
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby jmarvin_ » Sun Nov 05, 2017 10:19 pm

The King's Flight to the Scots wrote:People with academic credentials in specific fields often ask that we test for knowledge of current academic scholarship in those fields. Usually I'm very skeptical that anyone interested in the subject outside the confines of academia would or should care about that scholarship. Is there any particular reason this is different?


the work done in the scholarship surrounding religion is interesting for the same reasons the social sciences are interesting, as a systematic attempt to understand human behavior. the very idea of 'religion' as such is what is being pursued by the scholarship around these things, and if we're going to accept that 'religion' is an important thing that we should be asking questions about, we should probably pay attention to the questions of what exactly it is and what it means. i don't think it is just academics who find interesting analyses of the construction of cultural categories, attempts to understand the underlying factors behind strange religious phenomena, and so forth. the quest of religion as an academic and theoretical discipline has been in trying to articulate what makes the things we are asking about in the religion distribution of quizbowl interesting and unique (or perhaps not so unique) - it is on account of this work that we think it's worth having a religion category at all, rather than just "culture," or something. i'm not necessarily saying "scholars of religion" should be a sub-distribution of its own, rather that we should pay attention to the theoretical interest of the religious content we are asking about, and use that to write less trivial and more substantial and interesting clues.

and besides, secondary scholarship is far from the only thing i'm trying to call attention to in the above post.

EDIT: for what it's worth, i recall hearing tomoko masuzawa come up in a bonus clue in penn bowl 2016, but it was one of those bonus-leadins that has a really obscure sentence right before an easy part giveaway. it's not like getting interesting clues about perspectives on religions and their anthropological interest from scholarship is unprecedented, nor impossible or uninteresting.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby armitage » Sun Nov 05, 2017 10:26 pm

It's good that you've put a lot of thought into what types of questions you want to see. In general, whenever I've written religion questions for high level subs I've tried to focus on current, relevant practices. As far as prominent scholars in academia - I think most people would encourage you to write good examples of these questions for CO or Nationals.

Also, I don't mean to be rude, but could you use capital letters?
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby The King's Flight to the Scots » Sun Nov 05, 2017 10:31 pm

I think contemporary scholarship on world religions sounds like a very interesting field of study that nobody will really know anything about, and thus should be confined to bonus clues and lead-ins where it is currently. It's also fine I guess to encourage better "scholarly" clues in normal religion tossups, but I honestly think they'll be very difficult for writers to include well without substantive expertise.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Sun Nov 05, 2017 11:17 pm

I agree that quizbowl fails and has always failed at a clear definition between "religion" and "mythology". The current distinction is arbitrary and I could see, e.g., a devout Hindu finding it offensive in the abstract. However, I am also not sure that this matters in the end. Shuffling stories about Hindu deities from the mythology distribution into the religion distribution won't really change how often these subjects come up or how questions about them are written. I think if we sought to redefine the boundary of Religion and Mythology, tournaments would look a lot different on an editor's spreadsheet, but I am not convinced that they would seem very different to the player.

If you put a gun to my head, and forced me to alter the way Religion and Mythology are treated for purposes of the distribution, I would simply merge it into a single 2/2 Religion and Mythology category. And people other than the editor can fight about which of those 2 tossups or bonuses were supposed to be myth and which were supposed to be religion. This would probably be the easiest way to do it. At a lot of tournaments, this is probably de facto the case, with one editor handling both categories.

And, of course, as a sworn enemy of the "back to the classroom" movement, I would be remiss if I did not claim that nobody outside of a religious studies department probably reads religious studies scholarship, and that just like any other kind of knowledge tested by quizbowl, knowledge of religion among quizbowl players almost certainly comes primarily from outside of the classroom, such as by reading primary texts of religions, observing religious practices, or reading non-scholarly books or encyclopedias. Of course we should always welcome new and interesting clues, but we should also have true theories about how people learn things and I think "back to the classroom" is based on mythology of its very own. Clues about academic religious studies are best used in bonus prompts, hard bonus parts, and early clues in tossups.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby jmarvin_ » Sun Nov 05, 2017 11:49 pm

Also, I don't mean to be rude, but could you use capital letters?


my shift key is broken

But seriously, I apologize if I've caused anyone's eyes undue stress. I was in one of those post-tournament "still thinking about quizbowl" moods and decided to finally get this post I'd had on the backburner for so long said and done. Laziness and interest in speed prompted led to my initial lack of capitalization; a thought not to take all this too seriously or to present myself as superior in some way discouraged me from fixing it. If consensus requests I can go back and edit in capital letters at some point, since inconveniencing people is the thing I intended least in writing that post.

armitage wrote:As far as prominent scholars in academia - I think most people would encourage you to write good examples of these questions for CO or Nationals.

Periplus of the Erythrian Sea wrote:I've encountered a fair amount of Biblical scholarship in my casual readings, but not as much the names John mentioned (apart from Asad).

The King's Flight to the Scots wrote: think contemporary scholarship on world religions sounds like a very interesting field of study that nobody will really know anything about, and thus should be confined to bonus clues and lead-ins where it is currently. It's also fine I guess to encourage better "scholarly" clues in normal religion tossups, but I honestly think they'll be very difficult for writers to include well without substantive expertise.

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:Clues about academic religious studies are best used in bonus prompts, hard bonus parts, and early clues in tossups.


I guess I should state more outright that I am in no way advocating that, at any difficulty, we should be tossing up obscure religion theorists like some of the ones I mentioned. Perhaps my appendix list confusingly suggested that I think all these things should become canonical staples. I totally understand how silly that would be, and how there are maybe five people in all of quizbowl who would have any fun hearing such questions. Rather, my point about religion scholarship is that it is almost not present at all in how we approach the religion distribution, neither in attitude nor in content. Art, literature, history, the social sciences, philosophy, and science have all integrated real academic and critical material, sometimes even contemporary, into their hard parts and their lead-ins, even as we wouldn't usually toss up literary critics or historians. However, religion has not benefitted from this integration of academic content to anywhere near the same extent. Literature or history hard parts and lead-ins at Regs difficulty and above mention interesting books and important scholarship, but religion just finds more trivial and obscure minutiae. This is the problem I'm trying to call attention to; I'm not trying to say that we should be tossing up Wayne Proudfoot or Robert Orsi or something, even at Nats+ difficulty.

As an aside, it wouldn't be impossible or unseemly to occasionally toss up something methodological, in the spirit of a social studies question, using concepts. One could imagine something clever about "ritual," "experience," or "religion" itself. Maybe I will try to do this next time I have the opportunity.

And again, this is nowhere near the only thing I was trying to get across. Modern religious thought (incl. theology) and historical-critical things about the Bible are super important, knowable, and interesting to non-specialists, and yet they are all-but absent from quizbowl at most difficulties. Karl Barth and Thomas Altizer were on the cover of Time Magazine, with huge influence on what goes on in churches across America, subtle though it may be to the layperson, and yet I have never even seen anything related to them even in a hard part or a lead-in. That's just one silly example, but my point is that religious thought matters and has a huge impact on the world, and I'd presume more people know something about it than one might be inclined to suppose. And for many people, including myself (a non-specialist with respect to this topic) one of the most fascinating things about the Bible is its historical and archeological import, and the seriously cool theories about its composition and canonization, yet instead this is mostly absent and we get more trivia. I'm not trying to complain that the religion distribution isn't "real" enough for us high-and-mighty scholars, but that there are a lot of things currently not canonical that are important and interesting and might be employed to make the obscure sections of the game more appealing.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Mon Nov 06, 2017 12:26 am

jmarvin_ wrote:Karl Barth and Thomas Altizer were on the cover of Time Magazine, with huge influence on what goes on in churches across America, subtle though it may be to the layperson, and yet I have never even seen anything related to them even in a hard part or a lead-in.


As with many critiques of this sort, some (though certainly not all!) of it can be attributed to relatively narrow personal experience, since Karl Barth comes up all the dang time. Altizer I admit I've never previously heard of, though Death of God theology came up as recently as Crime.

In general, I tend to agree with Mattbo and Bruce here (and where else are you going to hear me say that?).
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby The Stately Rhododendron » Mon Nov 06, 2017 12:32 am

John, I really enjoyed this post. From the brief conversations we've had at various tournaments, I know this is something you have been thinking about for a while. Your points about the Religion/Myth line are well put, and very relevant. It's a shame that this thread seems to mostly be classic forums huffing and nitpicking. I hope productive discussion comes out of this.

That being said:
Richard, isn't saying "just write those questions for CO/Nats" a little flippant, esp directed towards a senior who hasn't attended either? Even if John was to go, there's a fair amount of editorial discretion with submissions, as Will pointed out earlier. I'm pretty sure if John submitted a TU or bonus that was mostly Theology it would be bounced for being too hard (I know because it's happened to me! ofc disclaimer that I write bad questions).

Bruce, c'mon. You went to UChicago, home of probably THE most prestigious Religious Studies dept and you go all Troy Ave and say nobody cares? Now I am biased as the son of an MDiv, but I think you're off the mark. Of the people that John mentioned, the "old" thinkers are extremely well known and come up all the time in qb. The Middle tier includes Bordieu, one of the most widely cited theorists in American academia! The newer people's influence isn't limited to Religious Studies, either. A lot of those names are very big in Anthro, and I read Mahmood for a class on African Lit. While John didn't go into theology much, I'd only point to the recent 500th anniversary of a certain small-press, first edition theological text to demonstrate the importance of this discipline!

Again, let's focus on the main ideas that John was adressing, rather than doing these quick "You aren't top 25 so you don't know what you're talking about" drive-bys!
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Mon Nov 06, 2017 12:41 am

The Stately Rhododendron wrote:Again, let's focus on the main ideas that John was adressing, rather than doing these quick "You aren't top 25 so you don't know what you're talking about" drive-bys!


Man, really? This is super disingenuous, because of course no one has said anything even resembling "you're not good enough to have an opinion", outright or implied.

EDIT:

The Stately Rhododendron wrote:Richard, isn't saying "just write those questions for CO/Nats" a little flippant, esp directed towards a senior who hasn't attended either?


The point that "references to current scholarship and other much less general-audience aspects of various subjects are more likely to, and often do, come up at harder tournaments", which even tracks with John's original point that there's not much room for the changes he's advocating at high school or easier college levels, seems like a perfectly reasonable response to me.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby jmarvin_ » Mon Nov 06, 2017 12:41 am

Auks Ran Ova wrote:As with many critiques of this sort, some (though certainly not all!) of it can be attributed to relatively narrow personal experience, since Karl Barth comes up all the dang time. Altizer I admit I've never previously heard of, though Death of God theology came up as recently as Crime.


Thanks for pointing these things out; I'm glad to see the hole I thought I was seeing is perhaps not as big as it seemed. I apologize for not double-checking with archive searches before citing these examples. As I tried to get across in previous posts, I don't want to seem overly urgent or upset about this. I don't think that there is a huge and integrity-compromising problem with the game as it stands, even as I do think these suggestions to be worthwhile for the improvement of our experiences playing it.

I thought of another way to articulate what I've been trying to say that may be helpful. With religion as a specific distributional section, we have the opportunity to ask questions that can only be asked there, and we should consider using this opportunity as we approach writing. For example, so much that gets asked in religion could be in myth, literature, history, or art, even as they have to do with religions. But in religion we have the opportunity to ask about those things that don't fit in other places, like behaviors or beliefs. This isn't to say that we don't usually do this—of course, good religion questions almost always do—but perhaps it's worth noting as an ideal.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby alexdz » Mon Nov 06, 2017 12:43 am

I would also encourage us to think about the ways in which we already do (and can) place clues about studies of religion from an anthropological or sociological perspective (i.e., Weber) into the social sciences catgeory/ies, and the ways in which current issues in religion might make it into a current events distribution where one exists. That's outside the point of what changes are appropriate to make within the RM distribution itself, if any.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Mon Nov 06, 2017 12:52 am

jmarvin_ wrote:I thought of another way to articulate what I've been trying to say that may be helpful. With religion as a specific distributional section, we have the opportunity to ask questions that can only be asked there, and we should consider using this opportunity as we approach writing. For example, so much that gets asked in religion could be in myth, literature, history, or art, even as they have to do with religions. But in religion we have the opportunity to ask about those things that don't fit in other places, like behaviors or beliefs. This isn't to say that we don't usually do this—of course, good religion questions almost always do—but perhaps it's worth noting as an ideal.


That's certainly a good point! The difficulty I always feel in responding to posts like yours is that I don't want to discourage or belittle a genuine desire to create better questions, and I'm heartened on that front to see you referring to it as an "ideal". Often when specialists lay out their ideal view of a subject like this, they don't really reckon with the practical nature of producing large numbers of questions and/or producing questions that need to be accessible to a fairly wide audience; you've done an admirable job not falling into that trap, I think.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby theMoMA » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:26 am

I believe there was a tossup on the "death of God" at the CO I edited that clued Gabriel Vahanian (before going on to talk about Nietzsche). If you search through the archives, I think you'll find that many of these scholars and topics do come up in various parts of the distribution, although they may be confined to bonus leadins (or third parts) and early portions of tossups if they're not widely known. Which isn't to say that quizbowl does the best job of integrating recent scholarship, especially in areas like religion where there are at most a couple people who frequently interact with that scholarship, but people do eventually find a lot of the interesting stuff that's out there, even if their interest is more dilettantish than scholarly.

I'll note that the "belief" category in Nationals this year has a third slot intended to capture topics that are not purely myth or religion as we've typically written.

1.5/1.5 belief: this includes 1 religion question, 1 myth question, and a third question that is either a religion question of a different kind (i.e. if you focused on religious practice for your first question, focus on religious text or scholarship for the second), a question on "thought about belief" (a question on religious philosophy that is more religious than philosophical, for instance, or a question about mythography), or a question on "legends" (myths that are more cultural than classical, such as American lore, European folktales, or similar stories that are less likely to show up in the canonical "mythology" category).


I wouldn't want to summon a wave of questions on contemporary religious theorists for this category, but I certainly think that the sort of scholarship you're discussing in this thread would be appropriate for that third question slot, and was envisioning that these sorts of topics would make up a chunk of questions in that area (but not even close to all--so again, everyone, please don't all submit questions in this vein).
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby armitage » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:35 am

The Stately Rhododendron wrote:stuff

Isaac, I think it's great that you're defending ya boi. To clarify, I could not possibly care less how good you are at quiz bowl (?); what I meant was that it's a disservice to the amount of ink you've spilled on this if it's not accompanied by examples that people like me, who have short attention spans, could refer to in practice. I suppose this was just reiterating the point in the original post about writing more questions.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Who Cares About Nausinous » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:57 am

What are our thoughts on including clues that do not necessarily have to name-drop modern theologians or scholars but other clues that have to do with what some religious scholars study? The topic of canonization of the Bible came to mind immediately for me, but I'm sure others can think of some other examples of "religious studies" that we do not hear or read much in tossups. For example, in some tossup about Daniel one could say that it the youngest book in the Hebrew canon. Interesting, true, and something that I would say uniquely fits into the idea of "religion" in that it is perhaps closer to literature if anything than any other topic in the distribution. Canonization comes up a lot in my BibLit class and it seems rather welcome in the quizbowl canon, as opposed to just talking about the literature (or mythology, or philosophy??) in a biblical text. As a religious studies minor I'd be excited to see questions that incorporate academia, but hopefully it wouldn't seem forced like it likely would if people were to try to incorporate contemporary religious theorists whose names they had previously never known.

I'll also add that I really liked the idea of a "legends" distribution when my friends and I read through TTIAC. I question the idea that "changing the structure of a long-established distribution" is so significant as to make the idea of combining R&M unappealing or scary. To me it seems like something players would barely notice, and probably something that wouldn't take too much effort on the editors' part either.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby bradleykirksey » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:58 am

OK, so I've had a few beers, I've been watching TV, and I have a short attention span. So help me out, here.

Are we saying
1) The difference between myth and religion is that religion tossups are usually about the religious source material and that a tossup about Jesus walking on water is myth?
2) Hard tossups and 30's should be about Karl Barth, Q source, dating the age of the Gospel of John, Third Question/Albert Schweitzer to avoid minor religion bowl and Jewish holiday bowl?
3) Tossups that include narrative should focus more on how different theorists think about such works, rather than the narrative itself?

I'm not sure that I have strong opinions yet (except that I like Barth, and Maimonides seems to dominate point 2) but I want to make sure I understand the basic practical applications of your argument before I chine in.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Nov 06, 2017 7:22 am

jmarvin_ wrote:
Auks Ran Ova wrote:As with many critiques of this sort, some (though certainly not all!) of it can be attributed to relatively narrow personal experience, since Karl Barth comes up all the dang time. Altizer I admit I've never previously heard of, though Death of God theology came up as recently as Crime.


I thought of another way to articulate what I've been trying to say that may be helpful. With religion as a specific distributional section, we have the opportunity to ask questions that can only be asked there, and we should consider using this opportunity as we approach writing. For example, so much that gets asked in religion could be in myth, literature, history, or art, even as they have to do with religions. But in religion we have the opportunity to ask about those things that don't fit in other places, like behaviors or beliefs. This isn't to say that we don't usually do this—of course, good religion questions almost always do—but perhaps it's worth noting as an ideal.


I'll make a point of objecting to general statements that "all questions in X category should be held to Y ideal." I think it's reasonable to say "the general focus of this category should be religion as it is practiced by human actions" as opposed to based on narratives, to the extent that these can be segregated. I don't think it's unreasonable to put theology into an entirely separate category (as, indeed, NAQT does - I think correctly - but NAQT also has the benefit of centralized tournament production and a lot of advanced software to help balance out their per-tournament distributions of these sorts of things).

With a hypothetical 2/2 R/M category, one might have the following groupings -

1 Legends / narratives
1 Belief as practiced
1 Theology and scholarship (I think you'd need to put both into one category to make the 0.5/0.5 worth it). I think this could be a repository for folks ranging from Joseph Campbell to Thomas Aquinas and everyone in between, freeing up some space in the crowded social science distribution.
1 Any / more of the above. Editors and submitters should "salt" the distribution here as they please, I see no reason to not allow some folks to go more legends-heavy and some to focus more on scholarly works, as long as every big area's getting hit on.

I do not intend to implement this specific sort of distribution at ACF Regionals, but I do encourage people to submit a good mix of things to that tournament. I'll happily make use of good submissions that discuss scholarly material, as long as they throw some bones to a more general audience.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:02 am

I do think there is a strong case for there being some form of canon for theologians at regular difficulty, as I think that this is an academic discipline which has been overlooked. I do try and write these questions for packet sub and they do sometimes get used (shout-out to WAO's editors). I think quiz bowl can provide its own hype train sometimes promoting figures because they have come up before even when its very possible to not hear about them in the course of an academic career. I don't see for example why Anthropology deserves a seat a the table where Theology doesn't. Of the top of my head I would say the following theologians are worth being the focus on questions in their own right. This is obviously not exhaustive but it does give an idea of who I am referring to:

Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Friedrich Schleiermacher, St. Augustine, Origen, Clement, Gregory, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Knox, Charles Wesley, Pope Benedict XVI, Albert Schweitzer, Tariq Ramadan, Mary Daly, Gustavo Guttierez, Alvin Plantinga, Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Arminius. There are quite a few more but I think this gives the general idea of who I am talking about.

Not all of these should be tossed up and a lot are best looked at through the lens of a debate or a common link. All of these are however thinkers who quiz bowl should approach and discus.

A lot of the people mentioned above are not theologians as much as they are philosophers of religion or sociologists of religion. Some of these people are widely cited and worthy of inclusion in their own right, some of them are not. These scholars are in general better integrated into religion tossups which critically examine religious phenomena rather than simply as answers themselves.

People do study theology at university, at I think that it can also be nicely integrated into religion tossups on texts. Barth's work on Romans is very "important" and is broadly discussed. I do think these tossups fit in better to a looser distribution because they can sometimes be lost in between religion, philosophy and social science. People do ask about Aquinas for example, and its not clear where in the traditional RMPSS distro someone using Aristotelian ideas to write about the bible fits most naturally. As usual I think the distribution should be a tool rather than a guiding principle around which people organise their lives. If it is a good academic question it should have a home in quiz bowl and a wise editor will find space for it by being clever about how they organise a tournament and a packet.

On the other issue of Hindu myth/belief, I think the best solution is again a looser distribution where these things can intermingle. Hindu myths about Rama obviously play a key role in Diwali and I can't see why these two elements should be torn asunder because of the distribution. If we can see why other is a useful category for a whole packet or for history, science or literature questions I'm not sure why regimented categories should continue to define the religion, myth, philosophy and social science distributions.


TL;DR: Theology should be in quiz bowl. If people struggle to fit integrated questions into the distro, loosen the distro to include interesting things.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby vinteuil » Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:42 am

Who Cares About Nausinous wrote:What are our thoughts on including clues that do not necessarily have to name-drop modern theologians or scholars but other clues that have to do with what some religious scholars study?

I strongly endorse this. I think the "contemporary" history and art history clues people have mentioned in this thread often go waaaaay far into the realm of "practically nobody knows this," and by just cluing the substance of the scholarship one could make it buzzable both for people who've actually engaged that scholarship and people who've engaged the source material. (I think I've mentioned this before, but this is what I tried to do with my entirely "Olympia's Choice"-based MYSTERIUM tossup.) In other words, I think the "contemporary scholarship" side of this post is good in serious moderation, but it doesn't have to just be an endless stream of namedrops.

I also agree with Isaac insofar as I think the "contemporary scholarship" angle has been a bit of a red herring for replies to this post. John's larger point was adding more religious thought in general, which is a great idea. In that vein I'm a fan of Will Alston's proposed subdistribution, as long as we take an expansive view of what "religious thought" means.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby _nestorius » Mon Nov 06, 2017 1:20 pm

First, I realize I'm entering into a debate that's as old as quiz bowl itself surrounding what should and shouldn't be asked about, and I'm quite unaware of much of what has been said before me. I've also played very few tournaments above regular difficulty, and nearly my entire high school career consisted of "bad" quiz bowl. Thus, take what follows with a grain of salt.

As a religious studies major myself, I'm one of the "five people in all of quiz bowl who would have any fun hearing such questions" mentioned above, and I have read varying amounts of most of the religious thinkers in John's appendix. That being said, I would advocate a turn toward introducing more secondary scholarship into the distribution, even if only in early tossups clues or bonus hard parts. Personally, I find it more rewarding, as well as more generally beneficial to me, to be familiar with the scholarship surrounding, say, a particular story from the Bible than to know ultimately-insignificant, obscure characters. Being familiar with the scholarship surrounding a particular story from the Bible contributes to a deeper understanding of that story than merely memorizing all its obscure characters, and quiz bowl, when it can, should promote deep understanding rather than simple memorization.

Also, religious studies as a field has the unique characteristic that it is not a discipline unto itself, but rather a lens of examining a variety of other fields, whether that be anthropology, sociology, history, literature, or otherwise. Thus, I think religion has the capacity to intersect with many other parts of the quiz bowl distribution, and it's unecessarily limiting to assume that any and all religion questions must fall under the religion/myth portion of the distribution. I think there's definitely a place to examine how we can ask about religion without asking only about religion, and this can increase the accessibility of questions about religion and religious scholarship to those who aren't scholars of religion.

Finally, I would also fully advocate blurring the categorical lines between myth and religion in the quiz bowl distribution—not at the expense of questions that currently fall in either category, but rather to avoid value judgements about what falls into which category. The current distribution of religion v. myth represents the sorts of veiled Western biases toward what constitutes "religion" (i.e., text(s) and faith), and making this adjustment is one way in which quiz bowl can help reject outdated modes of understanding this field.

(I also owe it to my club to mention that this exact topic, particularly regarding the religion/myth dichotomy in Hinduism, was a topic of quite heated discussion on a train back from a tournament this year, and has since morphed into something of a meme among ourselves.)
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Who Cares About Nausinous » Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:26 pm

I also want to add that I hope this conversation does not discourage people from writing tossups on biblical mythology or literature (i.e. writing tossups on Job or David like in ACF Fall) because of this contention over whether they belong in mythology or religion. The question is not whether or not they have a place; on the contrary, the current canon does a good job of including meaningful clues about biblical books and characters. The question is what the place should be, and perhaps how we can make questions about books and characters (that could otherwise be purely mythology or literature) pertain more to the context of religious study or practice.

For example, asking about the ramifications of the actions of a certain prophet or in which prayer services a section of a certain book is read. One example that I have seen was a tossup on Leviticus that asked about forbidden and encouraged practices in the book that carried over to religious life. That sort of stuff seems solidly "religion" to me. I would love to see religion expand beyond mythology and "this religion/sect" and "this holiday."
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:58 pm

Current quizbowl players in this thread seem to be painting a picture of a Religion canon that is hyper-focused on primary texts. Is that really the case?

So do people no longer write tossups on concepts like "Prayer for the Dead" or "Real Presence", with clues such as what Bible verse do believers use to reject or accept this concept, what did Calvin say about it in Institutes of the Christian Religion, what disagreement over it broke up the Synod of Whatever? I used to write a ton of those when I wrote religion questions, and I hope they were a welcome break from obscure Biblical character bowl. There are similar issues in Islam as well (was the Koran created? Can analogy be used?) and probably in other religions, but "things that different Christian denominations disagree on and argue with each other about" was one of the most fertile wells for me when writing Religion tossups. And as for literary criticism of the Bible, you used to get a decent about of tossups where the answer was "Q" (though that can be notoriously transparent), and I think the synoptic problem and the authorship of the Torah are famous enough that you can ask them to any well-read audience of non religious studies major.

At least with the stuff about basic theological concepts, I think an actual believer would be surprised to hear it referred to as religious studies: to them, defining what you believe and why you believe it, and then arguing about it with those who disagree, is likely to be seen as a core function of practicing their faith. My father, a Catholic, is routinely told by his Baptist coworker the specific reasons why he is going to hell, with Biblical citations, and I would be shocked if said Baptist coworker has ever met a member of a university religious studies department.

And, yes, I'm sure that's no longer what academic theologians argue about in the 21st century, but those were some of the biggest theological debates of all time and you can't understand why the modern religious landscape looks the way it does without them.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby Cheynem » Mon Nov 06, 2017 5:16 pm

I have long argued that the idea of "religion in the distribution" is unnecessary and ends up doing three things:

-giving free points to people of certain religious or cultural backgrounds
-leading down the rabbit hole to obscure religion bowl
-overly rewarding knowledge of a certain study that is no more or less important than things like economics, psychology, and sociology that does not get a guaranteed 1/1 or 1/0 in the distribution (I would assume comparing who actually studies "religious studies" in college vs. "economics" or "psychology," the latter two are much higher numbers)

My solution would be to simply collapse religion into the existing distribution. As it stands, religion could go into any number of categories--history (church councils, the founders of religions); philosophy (your thinkers like, say, Karl Barth); literature; mythology; heck, even social science. I would eliminate the religion mandate for a category by itself, require that 1/1 of your submission or packet in separate categories reward "religious knowledge" of some sort, and/or beef up the Your Choice and encourage religious questions to go there.

I'm okay not doing this for high school tournaments, especially low level high school tournaments. But I'd like to see this tried at some tournaments. I am also aware this is not a popular idea, but I think being forced to carve out a separate and distinct 1/1 religion category leads to a lot of the problems John was talking about in his first post.
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Re: we should be doing religion better

Postby _nestorius » Mon Nov 06, 2017 6:25 pm

Cheynem wrote:I have long argued that the idea of "religion in the distribution" is unnecessary and ends up doing three things:

-giving free points to people of certain religious or cultural backgrounds


I'm not convinced "giving free points to people of certain religious or cultural backgrounds" is necessarily itself a justification for avoiding a religion distribution; someone's religious or cultural backgrounds are always, in one fashion or another, going to give them an advantage or disadvantage. I don't think we should penalize any particular form of acquiring knowledge in quiz bowl (besides list memorization, etc.), even if this happens to come at the benefit or expense of people who grew up in a certain background. Someone's particular cultural background could help them in the literature or history distribution, for example, but this isn't reason to eliminate it.

Cheynem wrote:-overly rewarding knowledge of a certain study that is no more or less important than things like economics, psychology, and sociology that does not get a guaranteed 1/1 or 1/0 in the distribution (I would assume comparing who actually studies "religious studies" in college vs. "economics" or "psychology," the latter two are much higher numbers)


Fewer people study literature and history than economics or psychology, too, but literature and history are still nearly 50% of the distribution. Regardless of its status in the academy, religion is quite important to a great deal of things and a great deal of people, and I would not argue for the elimination of the religion distribution on the basis that its secular academic study is still quite limited.

However...

Cheynem wrote:My solution would be to simply collapse religion into the existing distribution. As it stands, religion could go into any number of categories--history (church councils, the founders of religions); philosophy (your thinkers like, say, Karl Barth); literature; mythology; heck, even social science. I would eliminate the religion mandate for a category by itself, require that 1/1 of your submission or packet in separate categories reward "religious knowledge" of some sort, and/or beef up the Your Choice and encourage religious questions to go there.


I more-or-less endorse this suggestion—as I stated above, rather than treating religion unto itself, religion can be intersected with most other categories. (Personally, I'm surprised you qualified social science with "even," as this is one of the primary categories within which religion can be treated.) The only thing that this might come at the expense of is religious practice, but religious practice certainly does not demand 1/1 in and of itself (and perhaps, as you said, this is where the "your choice" comes in). Doing this has the effect of rewarding those proud few of us who do study religion academically while also making it accessible to those who specialize in other categories as well.
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