Christianity, aisle 3

June 28, 2002

The Muslim students who discuss personal religious issues with me argue in the essentialist terms that C. W. Watson derides ("Open up to a very creative culture", THES , June 14).

These students say, for example, that the September 11 terrorists were or were not followers of "true" Islam. These students believe that they alone are privy to the essentials of their faith.

There is a conflict between absolutist and relativist systems of knowledge and belief. Students may use one mode to pass exams and another in their religious lives. Great religions draw political power from conviction about absolute truth and essentialist doctrines. Christian influence has declined in pluralist democracies. In Watson's relativist multicultural society, "religion" would be just a lifestyle choice in the belief supermarket.

Yanina Sheeran
Sociology department
Keighley College

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