The Religious Philosopher: ‘life as the only Jew on the course’

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The Religious Philosopher: ‘life as the only Jew on the course’

By Joel SICHEL, final year Religion, Philosophy and Ethics Undergraduate, Kings College London.

joel sichel
Joel Sichel

Upon beginning my studies at Kings College studying Religion, Philosophy and Ethics I anticipated that perhaps a large faction of my course-mates would be atheists/agnostics and missionary Christians.

These predictions were of course true and it wasn’t long until I, the token Jew on the course, began receiving a host of questions regarding my faith, religion and dress code.

Philosophy within academic circles is usually reserved for the exclusively agnostic/atheistic professors. Indeed, it is rare to find a devoutly religious man as head of a philosophy department in a non-denominational university.

It has become, I feel, a prevailing thought climate within universities that religion, whilst being beneficial for some, is ultimately devoid of reason and academic credibility.

From a first-hand experience I would argue that this is most prevalent when discussing topics of reason and rationale with lecturers and arguing their merits only to be met by quizzical faces that wonder why it is that someone who could argue the merits of reason and rationale could so inconsistently practice a religion with such observance.

It is of course a problem for many and is found outside of university whether that be the workplace, the dinner table or even within the fabric of family life and interaction itself.

The general presumption that religion has been outed by the intellectuals is perhaps a result of science’s victory over medieval Christianity’s scientific evasiveness, atheists’ victory over radical religious policy within politics and the general apathy prevalent among people belonging to all word religions.

That being said however, for those willing to listen to the contemporary theologians, there are those religious Christians (e.g William Lane Craig) who defend monotheism’s intellectual claims. Of course this is relevant to primarily Christian related claims, however some pertain to Judaism and to religion in a wider context.

Being one of the louder and perhaps more involved students of my lectures, I benefited from many in-class discussions with my lecturer and gained huge amounts of information from the feedback this would encourage in the class.

However, irrespective of the life changing perspectives that I was able to gain, refine and articulate throughout the course of my degree, I have never truly been able to shake off the nudging feeling of loneliness as being one of the only remaining religious people on this atheist-dominant course.

Indeed, my other co-religious course mates, a ‘team’ of missionary Christians, went on a year abroad to America and returned as self-declared New Atheists. If they were causing me problems before they left for their studies, they’re certainly no easier to deal with now.

Despite this unique loneliness I have been able to form some fantastic and valuable friendships with lecturers on the course as well as some warm and kind friendships with my friends on the course too.

I feel compelled to note that contrary to my other Jewish friends whether they be at Kings or any other university, I have never experienced even the slightest notion of anti-Semitism on my course. In fact, most probably owing to the emphasis the course places on trying to repair our moral norms after tragedies such as the Holocaust, I have only ever been greeted and treated with equal warmth as a fellow student on the course.

Most comfortingly I have also never received any sort of misdirected anti-Israel jibe as a result of being outwardly Jewish which indicates that perhaps not all students racially profile the recipients of their anti-Israel invectives.

All in all, my time at university has taught me many wonderful things. If I had to summarise the most important lessons though, I would have to say that firstly, it is quite clear that Judaism’s merits (in contrast to Christianity’s merits) as a religion capable of defending itself with sufficient reason are unfortunately unrecognised in most academic forums.

Secondly, due to philosophy’s plea to all students to think and question their preconceived notions of all things routine, there is a notable difference to how I feel I have been embraced and treated by my non-Jewish course mates and to how my friends claim to have been treated on their politics/history courses.

I do hope therefore that all universities, as I feel Kings has done, can succeed in both separating anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism in a hope that the latter will never become a justification for the former.

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