Saturday, August 04, 2007

conference presentation

I meant to blog about my presentation soon after I wrote about Amsterdam, but time too often runs away from me. I have been three weeks running to catch it. But if I can recall....

First, some background. I took a summer-session course in June and July which looked at research ethics in a Canadian post-colonial context. The professor grew up in Nunavut and brought an Indigenous perspective to the course material. We examined the 'isms' - racism, sexism, regionalism, etc.... We criticized structures of dominance... Basically, the class opinion seemed to be that everything the white, male, Christian says is wrong. Yes, I exaggerate, but not by much.

In Amsterdam I found myself at a conference filled with white, male Christians. A paper which I had written in the context of my Conflict Studies program did not quite toe the party line here.

This conference is pinned on the work of French philosopher René Girard. After 'coming out' as a Christian in his later years, his work has attracted a large number of Christian academics who appreciate his interpretations of the Bible and other literary texts.

My paper was a Girardian analysis of the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Girard understands violence as a destructive imitation (you hit me, I'll hit you back) and an infection which can spread within communities. His theory offered an interesting perspective into the long-term effects of the violence children experienced in Residential Schools.

Along with violence such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse I included the removal of children from their families and communities, and forced conversion to Christianity.

Thus, the point of controversy. After my presentation a man said something to the effect of 'we may not have done it well but at least we brought them Christianity. Are you saying we should all go back to being pagans?'

The moderator said I was controversial because I suggested that healing within Indigenous communities is being done as people return to their traditional identities and reject the inferior identity imposed on them through colonialization. In other words, it is not being done through the 'saving grace' of Christianity.

I don't consider myself someone who likes to swim against the tide, but I enjoy being around people who differ from me. I learn more that way. I am also challenged to reassess what I think. I didn't take back anything I had written in that paper or had said during my presentation. But presenting it in a context which differed greatly from the one in which it was written challenged me to reassess it.

I took into consideration the views of an Anglican minister who rose to say that lawsuits from survivors of Residential Schools is crippling his church, and the evangelical Christians who sincerely believe that spreading the gospel is a great gift to others. I weighed my responses carefully.

When I ran into the session moderator after my presentation she told me she thought I was "courageous." I got the feeling she really meant stubborn and wrong.

The conference gave me an award for the paper, so they couldn't have all thought it was bad. Either way, it was a great experience to present. If I am going to be critical of the way a certain group acts, I should be prepared to listen to their point of view. I like to think of it as studying the shades of gray.

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