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Wabash College
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Teaching Theology and Religion

Volume 20: Issue 1 – January 2017


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Look Before You Leap: Reconsidering Contemplative Pedagogy
Kathleen M. Fisher

This paper presents a critique of a set of teaching strategies known as “contemplative pedagogy.” Using practices such as meditation, attentive listening, and reflective reading, contemplative inquiry focuses on direct first-person experience as an essential means of knowing that has historically been overshadowed and dismissed by an emphasis on analytical reasoning. In this essay, I examine four problematic claims that appear frequently in descriptions of contemplative pedagogy: (1) undergraduate students have a kind of spiritual hunger; (2) pedagogies focused on cognitive skills teach students only what, not how, to think; (3) self-knowledge fosters empathy; and (4) education needs a new epistemology centered on spiritual and emotional, rather than intellectual, experience. I argue that these claims underestimate the diversity of undergraduate students, the complexity of what it means to think and know, the capacity for self-knowledge to become self-absorption, and the dangers of transgressing the boundaries between intellectual, psychological, and religious experiences. [See as well “Response to Kathleen Fisher's ‘Look Before You Leap,’” by Andrew O. Fort and Louis Komjathy, published in this issue of the journal.]

Response to Kathleen Fisher’s “Look Before You Leap”
Andrew O. Fort
Louis Komjathy

This article provides two short responses to Kathleen M. Fisher's essay “Look Before You Leap: Reconsidering Contemplative Pedagogy,” published in this issue of the journal.

Principles for Effective Asynchronous Online Instruction in Religious Studies
Beverley McGuire

Asynchronous online instruction has become increasingly popular in the field of religious studies. However, despite voluminous research on online learning in general and numerous articles on online theological instruction, there has been little discussion of how to effectively design and deliver online undergraduate courses in religious studies. Drawing on recent research, experiences teaching and learning online, and interviews with colleagues, this paper discusses key principles of effective online instruction. It recommends instructors focus on humanizing their course website, “chunking” their course content, making their approach to the study of religion clear, structuring and monitoring online discussions, prioritizing prompt and constructive feedback, and making course material relevant to learners.

(Inadvertently) Instructing Missionaries in (Public University) World Religions Courses: Examining a Pedagogical Dilemma, its Dimensions, and a Course Section Solution
Nichole Karapanagiotis

In this article, I explore an ethical and pedagogical dilemma that I encounter each semester in my world religions courses: namely, that a great number of students enroll in the courses as part of their missionary training programs, and come to class understanding successful learning to mean gathering enough information about the world's religious “traditions” so as to effectively seduce people out of them. How should we teach world religions – in public university religious studies courses – with this student constituency? What are/ought to be our student learning goals? What can and should we expect to accomplish? How can we maximize student learning, while also maintaining our disciplinary integrity? In response to these questions, I propose a world religions course module, the goal of which is for students to examine – as objects of inquiry – the lenses through which they understand religion(s). With a recognition of their own lenses, I argue, missionary students become more aware of the biases and presumptions about others that they bring to the table, and they learn to see the ways in which these presumptions inform what they see and know about others, and also what they do not so easily see.

Teaching Tactics

Coffee Hour Role Play
David W. Jorgensen

Twitter Essays and Reviews
Kristian Petersen

Panoramic Presentation
Jill Peterfeso

Drawing Theoretically Complex Ideas
Katherine Gallagher Elkins


Sexual Violence in and around the Classroom
Rhiannon Graybill
Meredith Minister
Beatrice Lawrence

Sexual violence on campus is a major issue facing students, faculty, and administrators, and institutions of higher education are struggling to respond. This forum brings together three responses to the problem, with a focus on the religious studies classroom. The responses move from the institution to the faculty to the classroom, exploring three separate but linked spaces for responding to sexual violence. The first contribution (Graybill) critiques common institutional responses to sexual violence. The second contribution (Minister) advocates for long-term, classroom-based responses to sexual violence and describes a faculty/staff workshop response. The third contribution (Lawrence) emphasizes the classroom, examining the issues that arise when perpetrators of sexual assault are part of the student body. Read together, the pieces offer a comprehensive view of the complicated intersections of sexual violence, the university, and pedagogical issues in religious studies.

The Agency Paradigm: A Pedagogical Tool to Facilitate Nuanced Thinking on Sensitive Issues
Catherine Caufield

Sensitive issues, rife in religious studies and in theology, present a pedagogical challenge when teaching students to nuance their thinking around positions that are often sharply defined and elicit strong feelings. I developed a learning tool that I call the “Agency Paradigm.” The purpose of this tool is to help students comprehend diversity within religious traditions, particularly regarding the agencies of women who are committed to them. Drawing on the open and critical dialogue of emancipatory pedagogy, the Agency Paradigm encourages students to explore a range of ways women in world religions choose to act in varying contexts. This approach to teaching world religions increases students’ cognitive knowledge base and expands their understanding of each of the religions studied in the course, as examined through the perspective of differing women; it also assists them in developing their own agency through thoughtful reflection.

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