Americans were once well aware of the various “Great Awakenings” in their history, and not a few have hoped that the nation might experience another renewal of faith. Yet what if we were to experience a religious awakening which was very bad for the nation? In a recent incisive essay, Professor Darel Paul of Williams College thinks we are in the midst of what he calls “The Great Awokening”, which has gripped higher education, and with it the nation itself.
This new religious sensibility — “wokeness” — is frequently associated with political correctness because it works like a religion, with an oral tradition developing around a certain “orthodox” creed. On campuses across the nation, one learns what to say, and what not to say. There is a price tag — a sacrifice which must be paid — with student activists requiring small armies of college therapists who can deal with every racial and sexual sensitivity. Their constructed, conspiratorial accounts of emotional harm have no basis in reality. The rhetoric of critical race theory and gender theory demands that abuse is everywhere, like the “red scare” of old, even where it is not seen. Even “silence” is counted as abuse.
What Paul calls the “Great Awokening” is as powerful as any previous religious awakening in America. It has been, however, far more pernicious and divisive than any of the previous great awakenings. In fact, one might say this religious revival is predicated on division. While religio is traditionally understood to be that which binds together the whole, in the Great Awokening each race has its own distinct, separate way of knowing what is real:
Rather than speak of scepticism or empiricism or pragmatism, anti-racists would have us instead speak of white (or Eurocentric) epistemology, black (or Afrocentric) epistemology, Asian epistemology, etc. If different races have different ways of knowing, then in order to adequately learn, students require instructors of the same race.
Ironically, critical race theory produces an anthropology which divides humanity into racial tribes. Unlike the Great Awakenings of the American past, which stressed that all humanity has a common origin and that humanity is united by virtue of being made in God’s image, the Great Awokening teaches that humanity is fundamentally divided by race. The great evil which must be overcome is the original sin of something they call “whiteness.” Paul explains,
They use the term whiteness as a label for “a range of unnamed and exclusionary institutional practices” that are “intrinsically linked to dynamic relations of white racial domination.” Never mind that whites make up the same percentage of US college and university professors as they are a percentage of the general population, while persons of Asian descent make up 11% of all professors, despite being only 5% of the country’s population.
The Great Awokening, Paul concludes, aims at nothing less than the Nietzschean “transvaluation of all values,” for the aim of this new religion on college campuses “is to eradicate the traditional mission of academia and the nature of the academic life. Their goal is to turn the decolonized university into a radical fundamentalist sect.”
The Ancient Academy, the Medieval University and, until recently, even the American University aimed at Veritas. But the Great Awokening requires students, faculty, staff and administrators to order all their activity to a new end: “Social Justice.” Everything must now be fitted to ideological purpose — or better, everything in the culture must be ordered to the new cult.
This is the “bad religion” which is sweeping American colleges and universities. These institutions, now so eager to pay obeisance to these idols of “wokeness”, should wake up before they find that they’ve spent their inheritance and burnt themselves upon the pyre.
C C Pecknold is Associate Professor of Theology, and a Fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology, at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC
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