Book by Sherry K Watt, Ellen E. Fairchild & Kathleen M Goodman
Review by Kelsey Smyth
Academic Advising Center
University of Central Arkansas

In Intersections of Religious Privilege: Difficult Dialogues and Student Affairs Practice, the Spring 2009 edition of the New Directions for Student Services series, chapter authors Stewart and Lozano quote a statement often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Sunday morning at eleven o’clock is the most segregated hour in the United States” (p.27). This quote sets the stage for the context of all eight essays included in this work. King’s quote shows that all types of people -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and people and students of different races and sexual orientations-- have their own beliefs that keep them separated when it comes to religion. 

Intersections of Religious Privilege addresses different topics surrounding religious privilege. These are the types of issues that student affairs professionals, including academic advisors, should take the time to assess and evaluate. The book opens with a definition of religious privilege, based on Peggy McIntosh’s (1988) work on white privilege. Here authors provide an easy-to-understand definition of how readers should view this particular privilege and then they build on this definition as they reference important works that should be understood by all who advise. 

The essays can be quickly read, yet they are packed with information. This is one of the book’s strengths. The book is broken into sections written by different authors thus making it easier for readers to pinpoint the specific information they are seeking, e.g., how religious privilege affects opinions about sexual preference. The downside of this is that the variety of authors leads to some confusion as each writer or team of writers defines the same terms somewhat differently, but the definitions, overall, are similar. Also, some mental adjustment needs to be made by readers as they move between writing styles.

Many of the ideas suggested in the book are geared toward an institution as a whole, or toward a specific office, e.g., Student Diversity or Housing, that may have more money and resources for programming that involves larger numbers of students. Many of the suggestions provided must be modified to work in one-on-one advising sessions. However, authors raise many smaller issues that can be easily adapted to advising, e.g., what an atheist student might feel when wished “Merry Christmas.” 

Intersections of Religious Privilege is an important work for advisors because it brings to the forefront the existence of religious privilege. Applying the concept of privilege to race and gender are very commonplace in our society, but religious privilege is not as familiar. As we become more aware of the diversity Millennials bring our campuses, it is important that we be conscious of how much the Christian religion permeates our culture. From phrases like “God only knows” to the organization of the academic calendar, religious privilege can marginalize many students on our campuses.


McIntosh, P.  (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Retrieved September 9,2009, from  http://www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf

Stewart, D. L. & Lozano, A. (2009). Difficult dialogues at the intersections of race, culture, and religion. In S.K. Watt, E.E. Fairchild & K.M. Goodman (Eds.), Intersections of Religious Privilege:  Difficult Dialogues and student affairs practice (New Directions for Student Services, 125). 23-31.

Intersections of Religious Privilege:  Difficult Dialogues and student affairs practice (New directions for student services, #125). (2009). Book by Sherry K Watt, Ellen E. Fairchild & Kathleen M Goodman (Eds.). Review by Kelsey Smyth. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 88 pp, $29.00, ISBN 978-0-470-49724-1
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