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  • Precarious Curriculum and Precarious Contexts:Teaching Turbulent Topics in Turbulent Times
  • Farah Zeb (bio)

contexts, curriculum, precarious, queering, turbulent

My contribution to the "'Queering the Curriculum': Pedagogical Explorations of Gender and Sexuality in Religion and Theological Studies" special section presents reflections on my course-building experience and from critical incidents that took place before and during the three modules I taught during the 2015–16 academic year.1 In May 2015, I was offered a fixed-term visiting lectureship position at the University of Humboldt (HU) in Berlin, Germany, to teach uniquely designed courses on gender, sexuality, and Islam. As will become apparent, this opportunity was one that ultimately laid bare precarious institutional ruptures that came close to destroying my will to teach.

During that time, I gradually became aware that not only do we—that is, scholars working on queering aspects of religion and theology—build challenging courses but that we also do so in continuously contested contexts and increasingly volatile times. Within these contexts, academia is by no means immune or innocent. By gathering under the umbrella of "we," I consciously refer to the collective of scholars working on LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer) concerns—but with caution, for our collective we, wherever or whenever we have the opportunity to come together, is composed of individuals completely different from one another in our respective [End Page 137] histories, positionalities, academic disciplines, faith systems, racial heritage, ability/disability, and gender and sexuality, to say the least. Our coming together is often the one time we physically get to a place where we lock our heads and hearts in reflective growth and support together in the same room across our varied geographical locations and continents—this is no mean feat and the challenge is by no means small. Such is the need for such spaces of collegial support that a premise of safety is immediately assumed when we are together—despite our individual challenges. Yet no meeting guidelines, no criteria for confidentiality, and no discussion of safety or privacy around sexuality, for example, are discussed at the outset.

This is not a criticism, but an affectionate insight from a "critical incident" that resulted in aspects of my own positionality being shared with the group before I had space to think about whether I would have chosen to share such information. For me, this is only indicative of the kind of vulnerability some of us outside of presumed safe spaces feel—so much so that when we enter a presumed safe space, we forget to qualify the terms of reference of that space in a way that breaks down and questions our respective privileges even amongst ourselves, a group of scholars concerned with queering curriculum. I emphasize this because most of us either have paid a heavy personal price or have witnessed other colleagues paying that price to be the kinds of academic scholars who stay with the vulnerability as well as the volatility of the disciplinary fields and geographical locations we navigate. The kind of people and scholars that we are, and the ways in which we navigate the world, has a bearing on the ways in which we navigate our way to and through the classroom when critical incidents occur.

According to David Tripp, "Incidents happen, but critical incidents are produced by the way we look at a situation: a critical incident is an interpretation of the significance of an event." As such, "to take something as a critical incident is a value judgement we make, and the basis of that judgement is the significance we attach to the meaning of the incident."2 Such incidents often involve placing one's own professional judgment on the line. No matter how skilled or experienced an academic may be, challenging classroom situations can at times only present the scary possibility of either disastrous or less disastrous results. Such spaces lay bare academics' vulnerabilities, particularly early career academics with much at stake if their judgment or assessment of classroom situations and tensions results in making the wrong call. Many incidents I encountered placed me in demanding situations of professional and personal vulnerability. Allow me to shed light on...


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pp. 137-142
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