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Equality in McGill RELG 204

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This petition is three pronged. The first two arguments center on equality and the last on the format and content of the course.

Firstly, we’d like to make it clear that the primary purpose of this petition is solely the demand for equality and fair representation; not for promotion, demotion or any other reason. To achieve this, a few clear inconsistencies will be pointed out.

1) The Judaism section was taught by a Jew and the Christianity section by a Christian. However, for the Islam section, we were not taught by a Muslim. While this is not technically wrong, it is a gaping inconsistency. A person that believes something to be true themselves will teach it differently. If Judaism and Christianity got this privilege, Islam should have as well. Not only was the Judaism section taught by a Jew, it was taught by a Rabbi and had 2 active TAs. Likewise, not only was the Christianity section taught by a Christian, it was taught by the Dean of Religious Studies who is clearly someone qualified. Furthermore, it had an active TA who is also an Anglican priest. However, when we come to the Islam section, we were taught by a non-Muslim who, because of this, at times, was unable to answer questions of basic everyday practice and had to resort to asking the class for help. It must be mentioned however, he often did do a just job in dispelling rumours and was well versed in topics other than everyday practice. Additionally, the TA was virtually non-existent. In class and on WebCT, it was the students who answered the majority of questions, not the professor, nor the imaginary TA. This was especially evident near exam time when students were abandoned on WebCT to get help from a handful of their peers. We must ask that had those few students not been in this class, who would have answered those questions on WebCT? Islam is clearly the odd one out here. We are not necessarily arguing that the Islam section should be taught by a Muslim, we are only arguing for consistency.

2) The Judaism section had readings written by Jews, from a Jewish perspective and the same for the Christianity section. However, in the Islam section, suddenly we had one reading from a perspective that was challenging Islam. This is not wrong, but why is this so? Islam was once again singled out. Why is Islam being challenged while the others were not. It is one thing to ask questions yourself, but it is another to have questions forced on you. Again, we are not arguing that Islam should not be challenged, we are arguing for consistency.

3) There was an extremely apparent prejudice against Islam in the posted timelines (see right hand side for links to timelines). Why is it that the words used in the Islam section are "killed" and "murdered", while it is "martyred" in the Christianity section? These words mean essentially the same thing, but the former express a clear sentiment of violence and bloodshed. Why is this so? Those early Muslims were "martyred" just as those early Christians were.

Secondly, why are things like "Taliban come to power in Afghanistan" and "Muslim extremists attack the United States" included on the Islam timeline? They have nothing to do with Islam. And even if you argue that they have a major impact on Islam as it's seen today, then why isn't "Israel illegally invades Palestine, and continues this illegal occupation until today" included in the Judaism timeline? This event has much the same effect as the above "Islamic" events. Though to a lesser degree, since Judaism is not demonized in the media as Islam is. In the same vein, why isn't there a line like "Christian Crusaders kill thousands of non-Christians" in the Christianity timeline? Instead there are much more tame sounding lines as "Crusaders take Antioch from Turks". Words like "attack" and "kill" are not used as they are in the Islam section. Why this is so? Why does Islam get the short end of the stick? Once again, Islam is singled out.

4) The last “comparison” class needs no arguments. For the length of the class, Dr. Henderson continually mentioned how short he was on time and yet he did nothing about it to give equal exposure to each section. He did such a poor job with equal exposure that he only brought up Islam in the last 3 minutes of class, and that after being prompted by a student! The unfairness of this particular session was beyond words. A class had already been spent on Christianity and Judaism, and instead of having one that related to Islam, we had another on Judaism and Christianity.

5) Lastly, but most definitely not least, many students have expressed their concerns with the bias of the Christianity section towards Protestantism. This again shows inequality. This course should focus on what is common in all major sects of a religion, and when differing, should mention that these beliefs and practices are of a minority or of a certain sect. Students in the class that are not Christian did not even know that they were being given a minority Protestant perspective, nor were they told. Again, equality is what we ask for. If this course embodied anything, it was bias and inequality.

The second purpose for this petition is to draw attention to the great inequality between marking of all sections of this course. Self-formed data (using 70 students) tells us that the average drop between the Judaism and Christianity midterms was 20 percent, with some students having experienced drops of 40 percent! These numbers clearly show the inequality and non-standardization in marking between sections; that a student who got a 90 on the first midterm, could get a 50 on the second with the same amount of preparation. Even if the final marks worked out in the end and were within expectations, such inequality is still incorrect. While the religions that we learned about promoted equality and fairness, we experienced quite the opposite. According to our knowledge and from an email written by course coordinator, Dr. Ian Henderson, non-standardized marking has been a source of outrage for students for "many years" and nothing has been done. This must change.

Lastly, we'd like to touch upon the general design of the course. Many students feel that this course is poorly designed and tested. To go through all the problems would be impossible and to propose a solution would also be impracticable as it would likely not be exactly implemented. However, we suggest that each section have the same layout and the same topics, with less focus on mostly irrelevant memorization. Ideally, it would be best if one topic could be covered for each Judaism, Christianity and Islam successively before passing on to the next topic. This would be more difficult on the instructors, but if the administration truly cares for the education of students, then their learning should be put ahead of ease for instructors. These are only suggestions, however, it is certain that this course is in need of a redesign.

Once this petition reaches a determined number of signatures, it will be printed and submitted to the appropriate faculties, committees and student bodies as a formal complaint.


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