“Outdated? AKC Now More Important Than Ever”

As Programme Director of the AKC, I’ve had reason to celebrate this term as student numbers have gone well over the 2000 mark.  It can be difficult getting out of the Lucas Theatre after an AKC lecture – not least because of the crowds of students coming to the front to express their appreciation – but that’s a small price to pay for being involved in this much-loved part of life at King’s.

In the last issue of Roar News, an anonymous student attacked the AKC programme under a headline claiming that ‘the AKC is misogynistic and outdated’.  I was shocked by the article, but not surprised to find that it offered no evidence to support these claims.  The author described the AKC as ‘narrow-minded and gendered’, dealing only with ‘male beliefs’ and ‘male issues’.  As a female philosopher working in a discipline where women are still a significant minority, I’m happy to talk about gender balance and other equality issues.  But this debate should take account of the facts, and proceed from there.

So what are the facts?  During the last two years, 37% of AKC lecturers have been given by female academics.  Most AKC lecturers are from the Theology and Religious Studies department (TRS), although some lectures are given by colleagues in other departments such as Philosophy.  So we’d expect the gender balance within the AKC to reflect the overall picture in these departments.  In fact, the representation of women in the AKC is significantly higher than the proportion of female academics in either TRS or Philosophy.

But equality and diversity is not just a numbers game.  Look behind the statistics, and we see women in senior positions in these departments, as within King’s as a whole. Professor Maria Rosa Antognazza recently ended an incredibly successful term as Head of Philosophy, and Professor Kate Crosby is a fantastic Director of Research in TRS.  Both have contributed to recent AKC units.  And of course the AKC has a female Programme Director.

So it’s hard to take seriously the complaint that ‘throughout the course we’ve heard from a grey-haired white man in a suit followed by another grey-haired white man in a suit’.  It’s ironic that someone supposedly championing an equality agenda complains about lecturers being ‘grey-haired’.  And anyway, isn’t it sexist to suggest that male academics can’t reflect critically on the patriarchal aspects of our culture?

But what about the anonymous author’s second complaint about the AKC curriculum – that it is ‘backward’, offering a ‘didactic Christian vision’?  This is no less misleading than the allegation of misogyny.  It is true that the AKC, being the original award of the College, reflects its distinctive Anglican foundation.  Each year one AKC unit focuses on the Christian tradition (or the Judaeo-Christian tradition, in the case of units on the Bible), and the other takes a broad perspective that reflects our strong commitment to diversity within the academic curriculum.  In other words, 50% of the AKC curriculum encompasses diverse religious traditions as well as secular attitudes.

The article does not mention that the AKC is an academic, research-led programme that takes a scholarly, critical approach to its subject-matter.  This means that even those AKC units that focus on Christian ideas include various perspectives – for example, our current unit on ‘Philosophers and the Question of God’ considers critical responses to Christianity offered by Spinoza and Nietzsche.

Of course, all students are free to express their opinions about the AKC, as about any other aspect of life at King’s.  But it’s cowardly to fling wildly inaccurate insults under the cover of anonymity.  And it’s disrespectful (as well as plain wrong) to suggest that our university’s internationally-renowned researchers give lectures that are ‘ludicrous, illogical and blinkered’.  Most of all, such remarks undermine the achievement of our fantastic students, who follow the AKC on top of their main programme of study, and leave King’s with a deeper understanding of philosophy, ethics, and religion.  At a time when violence and extremism threaten the toleration that’s so precious within our society, being properly educated about diverse religious traditions is more important than ever before.

 

Dr Clare Carlisle, AKC

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy & Theology / AKC Programme Director

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