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After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies

Cotter, Christopher R. and Robertson, David G., eds.
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016

Book Review

Tags: religious studies   |   teaching diverse students   |   teaching world religions   |   world religions
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Reviewed by: Debra Majeed, Beloit College
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Professors of religion and religious studies may find a familiar link between this edited volume and aspects of their personal academic journey, especially if they are on the tenure track. Both represent texts that involve self-reflection and can embody intellectual wrestling. Most significant for this review: the former also offers tools for rethinking the World Religions Paradigm (WRP) that can challenge pedagogical strategies considered the norm of today and tomorrow. ...

Professors of religion and religious studies may find a familiar link between this edited volume and aspects of their personal academic journey, especially if they are on the tenure track. Both represent texts that involve self-reflection and can embody intellectual wrestling. Most significant for this review: the former also offers tools for rethinking the World Religions Paradigm (WRP) that can challenge pedagogical strategies considered the norm of today and tomorrow. After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies represents a methodologically rigorous way to create a classroom that cements the study of religion as an integral component of both undergraduate and graduate study.
The twelve chapters in the volume – spread across three sections – are individually and collectively thought-provoking and intriguing essays. While I acquired the text for potential course adoption in my liberal arts undergraduate methods course, my engagement with the international cast of scholars (from the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, and the U.S.) confirmed the importance of this work for professors of what might still be considered “world religions” as we strive to help our students “make sense of our world” (186).

One of the more teachable moments was delivered by Teemu Taira. In “Doing things with ‘religion,’” Taira sets out to “instigate an exploration of how something came to be understood and classified as ‘religion’ and why,” as it simultaneously questions the inclusion and exclusion of traditions such as Confucianism, Shintoism, and Scientology (84). For example, the formation of Confucianism as a religion is connected with Western scholarship. Yet it “was regarded as a religion in China in 1949,” until the Communists took power in China when they “established the current system in which only Buddhism, Daoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam are considered as religions” (86, 85).

Michel Desjardins provides another significant moment of illumination with “The Desjardins Diet for World Religions Paradigm Loss.” In a post-presidential-election season during which many Americans are threatening to emigrate to Canada, it seemed apropos to gain new insight from a classroom on our shared northern borders. It was easy to be hooked by the chapter’s focus on food and religion as the sole doorway to an introduction to religion seminar. Not only does Desjardins employ his own qualitative research, but he also challenges readers to reimage food – and, thereby, create “more nuanced views of religion” – “as a rich site for examining human nature” (124, 123).

Additionally, useful resources are either embedded within the chapters (such as difficult to locate work on Sikhism) or as part of the references with which each ends. The “Afterward” by Russell McCutcheon, a stalwart in the field, concludes the work with a compelling goal: “If what we’re teaching these diverse students in our World Religions courses is not just the names and dates that these students are probably focused on, but, instead, subtly demonstrating to them how scholarship happens,” then we are more likely to teach skills “that are useful in unanticipated settings.” Who among us doesn’t yearn to accomplish that!

 

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Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom: Hybrid Identities, Negotiated Boundaries

Brecht, Mara; and Locklin Reid B., eds.
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016

Book Review

Tags: teaching comparative theology   |   teaching for transformation   |   transformative learning   |   transformative teaching
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Reviewed by: Alison Downie, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Date Reviewed: September 17, 2016
his is the fourth in the Routledge Research in Religion and Education series. The series editor provides a Foreword distinguishing between religious education as formation within religious institutions and the concern of the series, which is education about religion. In this context, the essays address comparative theology as a process and as a pedagogical method in primarily, though not exclusively, undergraduate classrooms. Editors Brecht and Locklin provide a concise, effective ...

his is the fourth in the Routledge Research in Religion and Education series. The series editor provides a Foreword distinguishing between religious education as formation within religious institutions and the concern of the series, which is education about religion. In this context, the essays address comparative theology as a process and as a pedagogical method in primarily, though not exclusively, undergraduate classrooms.

Editors Brecht and Locklin provide a concise, effective introduction which establishes an overview of the intersecting thematic components of the collection: comparative theology, particularly the “departure-and-return” model as developed by Francis X. Clooney, SJ., and ways in which the digital culture of the millennial generation impacts epistemology and identity.

The fifteen essays are arranged in three sections. The well-placed first essay, by Judith Gruber, offers a postcolonial critique of the comparative theological model as implicitly essentialist. Essays in the second group address issues of identity raised by millennials and the nature of the millennial classroom in relation to comparative theology. Essays in the third section discuss hands-on examples and specific pedagogical practices. An afterword by Clooney, in which he identifies “six recurring issues” which he finds in the essays and addresses sequentially, concludes the volume. Clooney’s frankly personal account of his own context in developing the departure-and-return model and his rejoinder to the charge of essentialism bring the dialogue to a fitting end.

The diversity of the collection is rich in both content and authorial voices, some of whom are well-established scholars and others of whom are emerging, most teaching in religious studies or theology departments at public or private North American universities, though the balance leans toward Roman Catholic institutional affiliations.
Editors Brecht and Locklin note that this collection is the fruit of a Wabash Center teaching workshop. The robust range of reflection invites readers into the feel of a working group of teacher/scholars who share a concern for facilitating transformative learning in the religion or theology classroom, yet who address this concern and comparative theology’s relevance to the millennial context in quite distinct ways. A brief sampling demonstrates the range of perspectives authors develop: soteriological privilege (Brecht); Muslim theology of tawhid (Hussain); embodiment and material culture (Gasson-Gardner and Smith); storytelling as a pedagogical method of African Traditional Religions (Aihiokhai); comparing dharma and moksha, works and faith, ethics and spirituality (Yadlapati); a voluntary female Jewish-Muslim textual study group (Golberg); and use of film in an online context (Sydnor).

As Jeanine Hill Fletcher writes in her essay, “the work of the comparative theology classroom shares in this important work of shaping citizens in a multifaith world toward tolerance, appreciation, meaningful relationships, and the common good” (149). The same may also be said for religious studies classrooms. Many teachers of religion who are neither theologians nor comparativists by academic training will nevertheless find this collection useful and even inspiring for their pedagogical reflection and practice.

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Engaged Teaching in Theology and Religion

Harrison, Renee K.; and Knight, Jennie S.
Palgrave Macmillan Springer Nature, 2015

Book Review

Tags: critically reflective teaching   |   engaged learning   |   engaged teaching
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Reviewed by: Krista Hughes, Newberry College
Date Reviewed: August 3, 2016
There is wide agreement that student-centered pedagogies yield deeper student engagement and stronger learning outcomes than more traditional “sage-on-the-stage” teaching does. Learning shines when students are invited and equipped to integrate course content with their own experiences, insights, and prior knowledge. In this volume Renee K. Harrison and Jennie S. Knight reflect on personal experiences in the classroom, explore pedagogical theory, and provide examples of applied practices to create a ...

There is wide agreement that student-centered pedagogies yield deeper student engagement and stronger learning outcomes than more traditional “sage-on-the-stage” teaching does. Learning shines when students are invited and equipped to integrate course content with their own experiences, insights, and prior knowledge. In this volume Renee K. Harrison and Jennie S. Knight reflect on personal experiences in the classroom, explore pedagogical theory, and provide examples of applied practices to create a map of the key elements of engaged pedagogy. The map, divided into four sections, moves from the selfhood of the teacher to teaching methods and course content to community context and engagement.

Harrison and Knight begin with a premise: that the enterprise of teaching involves the very personhood of the teacher. Either we can acknowledge this and cultivate an awareness of our strengths, blind spots, and biases, or we can ignore it. That deep learning involves the very personhood of students is another key premise. Nurturing this two-pronged awareness – that teachers and students do not leave their wider selves at the door of the classroom – is the necessary ground of engaged teaching. Whole persons are welcomed into the classroom and empowered to reflectively integrate course content with who they are.

Sections two and three explore how form and content can either undermine or buttress one another and how, even when teachers aim for the latter, they may unwittingly miss the mark. For example, in classrooms in which more democratic teaching practices are employed, course content may still hew closely to a traditional textual canon, with marginalized voices tacked on at the end. Or content may offer a wide range of perspectives while teaching methods minimize student voices. Ideally, democratic pedagogies and a widened canon reiterate one another.

If the goal of learning is not just knowledge acquisition but transformation and if we are inviting students’ whole lives into the process, attending to communal context is likewise crucial. The authors thus cap the volume with strong advocacy for community-based learning (CBL). They discuss the logistical and pedagogical challenges of incorporating community work into courses and illustrate why it is well worth the effort. They offer tools for implementing such work, while acknowledging that sustained success in CBL requires significant institutional buy-in that some teachers may not enjoy.

In fact, a particular strength of this volume is its honesty about engaged teaching practices, which while considered innovative in pedagogical circles, are still perceived in many academic circles as less rigorous and less respectable than more classic methods. Harrison and Knight lament that this should be so especially in theological-religious education, where the integration of curricular and worldly knowledge is paramount. Should engaged teaching not be the norm? Recognizing that teachers will need to calculate risks depending on institutional context, they counsel courage for the sake of students’ whole-person integrity – and of the credibility of theological-religious education.

The wisdom conveyed in these pages is clearly hard won, over the course of many years across varied institutions. In distilling their experiences, Harrison and Knight offer their readers a real gift. However, while teachers can benefit from the ideas, strategies, and examples laid out in the book, they should not expect to change their own teaching methods and courses overnight. Rather, this volume invites teachers to an ongoing practice of engaged pedagogy that requires continual self-reflection, awareness of institutional and classroom contexts, a willingness to take creative risks, and a commitment to engaging one’s students as whole persons. It is a compelling invitation indeed. For those who prize transformative pedagogy, this volume weaves the best of theory and practice in teaching theology and religion – accessibly, comprehensively, and indeed engagingly. Highly recommended for undergraduate, seminary, and graduate teachers alike.

 

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Engaging with Living Religion: A Guide to Fieldwork in the Study of Religion

Grett, Stephen E.; and Scholefield Lynne
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015

Book Review

Tags: engaged learning   |   engaged teaching   |   teaching religion   |   theories and methods
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Reviewed by: Rob O'Lynn, Kentucky Christian University
Date Reviewed: March 3, 2016
What is “religion”? Many would argue that religion is the single most important element of a person’s existence: “I am [Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, et cetera] and my understanding of reality is predicated by my religious affiliation.” Others would argue that it is nothing more than a sociological aspect of a person’s existence. “I am [Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, et cetera], and it is important to me in the same ...

What is “religion”? Many would argue that religion is the single most important element of a person’s existence: “I am [Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, et cetera] and my understanding of reality is predicated by my religious affiliation.” Others would argue that it is nothing more than a sociological aspect of a person’s existence. “I am [Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, et cetera], and it is important to me in the same way that my Irish, Indian, or Russian heritage predicates my social interactions.” On one hand, we have persons who understand themselves within the context of their religion. On the other hand, we have persons who understand their religion within the context of themselves.

Yet, how does one define religion? One definition that I have found helpful for many years is from Winfried Corduan’s tome Neighboring Faiths: “A religion is a system of beliefs and practices that provides values to give life meaning and coherence by directing a person toward transcendence” (InterVarsity, 1998, 21). This definition provides a simple construct for understanding what religion is and what it does without taking sides. Whether one is on the devout or the affiliated end of the spectrum, people might generally agree that the purpose of religion is to teach people values that will give life meaning.

The next question, then, is how should students in higher educational classroom contexts study religion? Talk about a tricky wicket! Any student of religion is going to have shelves of books that all make the same claim – this one has the answer! Some offer tremendous analysis on the all-encompassing and captivating nature of religion. Others provide summative studies of various religions that may stir the reader’s appetite for meaning and transcendence. Still others provide a sociological approach to the study of religion, a field manual for understanding why persons cling to religious belief and practice that belief as they do.

Authored by religious studies professors Stephen E. Gregg (University of Wolverhampton) and Lynne Scholfield (St. Mary’s University, Twickenham), Engaging with Living Religion offers a practical introduction to the field study of religion. The intention of the book is not to develop religious ideation or affiliation in its readers, but to provide a professionally-appropriate way for researchers to analyze and comprehend why Christians pray with their eyes closed, why Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca, and why Jews light a menorah. While this last statement may sound simplistic, it is anything but – each of these actions are essential expressions of that religion and, as the authors argue, one cannot understand Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion without understanding the liturgy and locations that provide structure to the world’s religions.

Designed as a guide for the fieldwork student (or as a study companion in a lecture course on religious sociology), Gregg and Scholefield create not only a keen eye for studying religion but also a deep respect for religious adherence. Although the volume does take more of a sociological stance – religion is more akin to a social activity or organizational membership than a guiding force for one’s life – the authors keep the idea that religion is living ever before the reader/researcher. Each chapter is bursting with sidebars, such as passages from foundational readings or case studies, discussion questions, recommended bibliographies, and websites for further research. Although this is a book about the study of religion, one thought comes through subversively on every page – Religion, however it is defined, is living and active, and it provides meaning and direction to individuals seeking transcendence. Therefore, treat it with care and respect.

Overall, I found this volume to be both intriguing and engaging. In addition to a chapter that advocates why studying religion is important, there are chapters on where to study religion, how to study religion through class field trips or study-abroad programs, how to use case studies and social media to understand religion practically, and how to develop an ongoing appreciation for the sociological study of religion.

My recommendation would be that this volume be read alongside a more extensive volume on ethnography. Van Maanen’s Tales of the Field (University of Chicago, 2011) or Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw’s Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes (University of Chicago, 2011) would constitute good choices.

 

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Interreligious Learning and Teaching: A Christian Rationale for a Transformative Praxis

Largen, Kristin Johnston
Augsburg Fortress Pubs., 2014

Book Review

Tags: inter-faith   |   inter-religious   |   inter-religious learning   |   transformative praxis
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Reviewed by: Alison Downie, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Date Reviewed: February 4, 2016
Published in the Fortress Press series, “Seminarium: The Elements of Great Teaching,” this affordable, concise volume is targeted for Protestant seminary professors in particular but will also be of value to those working in Christian higher education and ministry, more generally. The teacher-friendly format features three chapters of text by K. Johnston Largen, punctuated by sequentially numbered, stand-alone text boxes of “Praxis Points” by C. Lohr Sapp, and responses to ...

Published in the Fortress Press series, “Seminarium: The Elements of Great Teaching,” this affordable, concise volume is targeted for Protestant seminary professors in particular but will also be of value to those working in Christian higher education and ministry, more generally.

The teacher-friendly format features three chapters of text by K. Johnston Largen, punctuated by sequentially numbered, stand-alone text boxes of “Praxis Points” by C. Lohr Sapp, and responses to each chapter and an epilogue by M. E. Hess. The text offers many useful resource references including texts, websites, and video clips. Quick Response codes intersperse the text and the relevant URLs are also provided in footnotes.

The first chapter presents four specific examples of interreligious experience relating to Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, in order to demonstrate the urgent and practical importance of interreligious education and dialogue. The second chapter offers a theological rationale for such learning drawing upon insights of comparative theology. The third chapter suggests expected outcomes and pitfalls, strategies for including interreligious learning within a theological curriculum, and considerations for assessing transformative praxis for students, faculty, and institutions.

The format highlights the richness of collaborative work that coheres well throughout the volume yet offers distinct contributions by each authorial voice, modeling the value of dialogue in its overall presentation. Theological references are primarily Lutheran and Roman Catholic but also model dialogue within Christian diversity. A further dialogue which informs all aspects of this text involves pedagogical scholarship, particularly literature associated with adult learners. Each author demonstrates pedagogical depth and writes in a personal, accessible, and occasionally humorous tone.

Since the authors emphasize the importance of meeting students where they are and structuring learning opportunities with this in mind, a great deal of attention is paid to resistance and fears some Christian students continue to have toward learning about other religious ways and practices.

Readers who are not actively involved in communities or educational settings that reflect this tension and ambivalence may be impatient with the introductory nature of the volume. The authors write to convince and inform those who are beginning or seeking to encourage others to begin this type of transformative praxis.

 

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Proleptic Pedagogy: Theological Education Anticipating the Future

Matthaei, Sondra Higgins; and Howell, Nancy R., eds.
Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014

Book Review

Tags: pedagogical challenges   |   proleptic pedagogy   |   theological education
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Reviewed by: Leanna K. Fuller, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
Proleptic Pedagogy: Theological Education Anticipating the Future is the capstone project of a three-year study undertaken by faculty members at Saint Paul School of Theology. In the volume’s first essay, co-editor Nancy R. Howell explains that this study was designed to investigate three “distinct pedagogical challenges” that the Saint Paul faculty has come to recognize within the rapidly changing landscape of its own institution: (1) teaching in ways that adequately ...

Proleptic Pedagogy: Theological Education Anticipating the Future is the capstone project of a three-year study undertaken by faculty members at Saint Paul School of Theology. In the volume’s first essay, co-editor Nancy R. Howell explains that this study was designed to investigate three “distinct pedagogical challenges” that the Saint Paul faculty has come to recognize within the rapidly changing landscape of its own institution: (1) teaching in ways that adequately address the needs of both digital natives and digital immigrants, as well as distance learners; (2) creating instructional approaches that are flexible enough to accommodate students with diverse learning styles and backgrounds; and (3) attending in new ways to the changing racial and ethnic demographics among theological students. While these particular emphases are clearly shaped by Saint Paul’s particular context, the authors of the essays argue convincingly that they also represent broader emerging themes within theological education.

Proleptic Pedagogy includes eight chapters. The first of these, “Proleptic Pedagogy, Transition, and Teaching Toward the Future” by Nancy R. Howell, serves as the introduction to the volume and describes the origins of this project and the major pedagogical challenges it aims to address. Though brief, the introduction provides a helpful guide to the central themes that the other contributors address in varying degrees of depth. The remaining chapters focus primarily on one of the three main challenges named in the introduction: Chapters 4, 6, and 8 emphasize the challenge of racial and ethnic diversity; Chapter 2 addresses the challenge of educating students with diverse learning styles and needs; and Chapter 5 engages the challenge of discerning the proper place of technology within theological education. Chapters 3 and 7 simultaneously address diversity in race and ethnicity and learning styles, and how these two dimensions may influence one another in the classroom.

Although the essays vary in their particular emphases, they all employ the same organizational structure and include the following sections: (1) Telling a Classroom Story; (2) Identifying the Pedagogical Challenges; (3) Engaging Pedagogical Literature; (4) Considering a Theology of Pedagogy; and (5) Constructing a Pedagogical Proposal. This structure exemplifies a practical theological approach: it begins in the lived experience of teachers in the classroom, engages pedagogical and theological resources, and finally returns to concrete implications for practice. The essays prove particularly helpful in summarizing a wide variety of pedagogical literature (which many theological educators may not have time to explore on their own) and providing examples of theological reflection on teaching.

The unique strength of this volume lies in its modeling of constructive theological and pedagogical dialogue between faculty members from one institution, without necessarily suggesting that they are in full agreement. As Howell notes in the introduction, “The essays demonstrate that the faculty interprets the Saint Paul mission, theological education, theology, and pedagogy in diverse ways. Not to be interpreted as inconsistency, our diverse pedagogical approaches are our strength” (7). Taken together, the essays identify challenges to which faculty in many different contexts can relate, while grounding reflection on those challenges in the authors’ lived experience of teaching in a theological school. Additionally, the volume’s index makes it easy to identify which essays address particular topics and themes. The lack of a concluding chapter, however, makes for a rather abrupt ending to an otherwise well-integrated and compelling volume. It would have been helpful to include a brief chapter at the end of the book to reiterate the essays’ primary emphases and to propose avenues for future conversation. Nonetheless, Proleptic Pedagogy represents an important contribution to the broader conversation about the relationship between pedagogical practice and the future of theological education.

 

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Teaching Civic Engagement

Clingerman, Forrest and Locklin, Reid B., eds.
Oxford University Press, 2016

Book Review

Tags: civic engagement   |   civic learning   |   engaged learning
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Reviewed by: Frederick Ware, Howard University School of Divinity
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection of fourteen essays, most of which originated from a faculty workshop on Pedagogies for Civic Engagement sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, is divided into three sections. The collection represents a variety of perspectives and the authors engage that diversity through a distinct set of questions. “What is the civic relevance of the academic study of religion, considered on its own ...

This collection of fourteen essays, most of which originated from a faculty workshop on Pedagogies for Civic Engagement sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, is divided into three sections. The collection represents a variety of perspectives and the authors engage that diversity through a distinct set of questions. “What is the civic relevance of the academic study of religion, considered on its own terms and in its increased diversity? What unique contributions does religious studies offer the public sphere, especially when seen as separate from the work of religious communities who concentrate on religious belonging? How might the disciplines dedicated to such study offer a distinctive shape and response to the civic mission of the contemporary university?” (xiv-xv). Further uniting the individual contributors’ perspectives are their insights offered towards the development of a model of civic engagement that answers these questions.

Section I describes the CLEA model of civic engagement. The employed acronym is drawn from the terms complexity, location, empathy, and action. The terms refer to dimensions, better still, capacities essential for civic participation emerging from the “virtues of civility, reasoned deliberation, and commitment to the common good” (xiii). The intellectual capacity needed for democratic society is evident when persons achieve awareness of the complexity of the world, especially a view of the world beyond the way the powerful control the interpretation of social reality (8-10, 14, 25). As democracy blossoms into pluralism, the person who would be a responsible citizen must exhibit awareness of his or her social location and point of view relative to that of other persons (15, 27-28). Beyond awareness of difference, he or she must have empathy, namely a sense of connection to others as all are (or should be) in pursuit of the common good (15-16, 31). The responsible citizen must act on what he or she has come to know as true (16, 34).

In Section II, various strategies for teaching civic engagement are described. Among the various methods used for teaching civic engagement is reflective writing which is summary and evaluation of different points of view relative to one’s own view (49, 50-53). In critical assessment of texts and media, students learn to interrogate symbols, internet (websites), newspaper and news programs, visual and performing arts, and various forms of entertainment (49, 53-54, 88-89, 95) but also learn how they may be used responsibly (100-102). Field trips are immensely helpful aids in teaching (49, 54-55, 77-80, 119-121). Another method of teaching civic engagement is community-based learning which involves teachers and students going into the community as well as representatives from the community visiting their classroom (49, 55-56, 66-71, 110, 112, 136-137). Engagement may also be taught through students’ involvement in community service projects designed to address a need or problem in a community (49, 57, 110, 112). Ascetic withdrawal, for example, in the form of abstinence from or limiting use of cell phones, smart phones, email and texting, impulse buying, consumption of fast-food, use of products made through exploited labor, may enable students to empathize with other persons adversely affected by American consumerism and to discern and cease the unhealthy habits they have formed through compulsive behaviors (93-94, 151, 155). Successful teaching requires creativity in the selection of instructional methods as well as discernment of the combination of methods, two or more, that will lead to achievement of specified learning objectives (58-59).

Section III goes further into defining civic engagement and locating it within the curriculum. Civic engagement is defined as participation in political processes such as voting, development of relationships, and collaborations or partnerships that lead to policy that contributes to the common good (165, 167, 170, 175). Civic engagement is not only local and national but also global (184). It is connected to, inseparable from, the idea of social justice (185). Also, it is connected to advocacy, not taking a political position but rather “taking a side in a debate and arguing for it” (209-210). Disagreement about the relation of and distinction between religious studies and theology is resolved in the consensus that both function best as means for analysis and critique of societal and cultural traditions that result in privilege and inequality (236). Whether in religious studies or theology, the course offered in civic engagement is an opportunity for students and teachers to practice democracy (17, 188-190, 246-247).

In spite of the charge that the described teaching methods are difficult to grade and are not academically rigorous (37-39, 218-220), this volume of essays merits consideration. It is a rich resource on instructional methods. The combined essays offer a substantive definition of civic engagement. Most importantly, the collection correlates teaching method to the cultivation of capacities needed for life in democratic society.

 

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Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom, Volume Two

Webster, Jane S.; and Holland, Glenn S., eds.
Sheffield Phoenix Press Department of Biblical Studies University of Sheffield , 2015

Book Review

Tags: liberal arts education   |   teaching bible   |   teaching biblical studies
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Reviewed by: Lisa Hickman, Duquesne University
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Reading The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book by R.A. Montgomery as an eight year old in 1979, I never could have imagined relating that adventure to the book of Revelation in scripture. Now, after reading Robby Waddell’s essay “Choose Your Own Adventure: Teaching, Participatory Hermeneutics, and the Book of Revelation” in Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom: Volume 2, the possibility of a ...

Reading The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book by R.A. Montgomery as an eight year old in 1979, I never could have imagined relating that adventure to the book of Revelation in scripture. Now, after reading Robby Waddell’s essay “Choose Your Own Adventure: Teaching, Participatory Hermeneutics, and the Book of Revelation” in Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom: Volume 2, the possibility of a scholarly conversation between the two makes me eager to teach Revelation again.

Teaching the Bible includes four parts: tactics, strategies, principles, and reflections on Biblical Studies in the liberal arts classroom. Waddell’s essay is just one of several essays sharing tactics for teaching the Bible. Each of these tactical essays highlight creative and compelling possibilities for teaching: Twitter as a tool for conversation and connecting, Wikipedia as an example of Pentateuchal formation, and digital storytelling to illumine Biblical character studies are just a few examples. Certainly it would be easy to view these tactics as mere activities for class discussion. However conceptualized, within this framework these tactics reveal deeper truths: the changing role of teachers in a twenty-first century globalized classroom, the ongoing fight for humanities’ role as a vital component of a post-modern education, and facilitating effective learning when it is all too easy for a student to surf the Internet while taking notes on their computer.

Editors Jane S. Webster and Glenn S. Holland, along with their cohorts in the “Teaching Biblical Studies in the Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context” within the Society for Biblical Literature, care about this deeper conversation. Tactics for teaching become activities when separated from guiding strategies and overarching principles. Tactics become a particular art form when guided by essays like those included in Parts II and III of this book.

Consider the strategy suggested by Sonya Shetty Cronin in her essay, “Fantasy: The ‘Renewed’ Genre Making Necessary a Biblical Education for Understanding Our Contemporary World.” Cronin’s argument suggests scholars of Biblical studies should be just as versed in modern fantasy novels as they are in Philo. Doing so allows scholars to continue to present the modern relevance of Biblical themes as well as their undergirding of so much of popular culture. If strategies are the goals that guide tactics, principles are the greater themes that illumine those strategies. In this volume, themes of ecology, supersessionism, and violence are explored as principles that call for a deeper conversation within the Biblical narrative and contemporary culture.

The final three essays, exploring Biblical studies in the liberal arts curriculum, are valuable conversation partners. For example, Steven Dunn highlights a syllabus and course objectives drawn into conversation with the ability-based curriculum at Alverno College. Katy E. Valentine probes the problems and possibilities for teaching students from non-religious backgrounds.

Certainly The Lost Jewels of Nabooti drew me into the scholarly conversation unfolding within these pages. To be clear, this excellent book is not unlike a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where the reader chooses the adventure most needed within their classroom setting.

 

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Teaching the Historical Jesus: Issues and Exegesis

Garber, ed., Zev
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015

Book Review

Tags: '   |   critically reflective teaching   |   engaged teaching   |   inter-faith
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Reviewed by: Rollin Ramsaran, Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection highlights the depth and breadth of interest in the historical Jesus across various forms of higher education. Editor Zev Garber has done an outstanding job of assembling high quality scholar-teachers to explicate their framework for understanding Jesus in his social-historical setting. What makes the volume noteworthy for a faculty teaching theology and religion, however, is the reflection on how to teach this important subject in ways that are ...

This collection highlights the depth and breadth of interest in the historical Jesus across various forms of higher education. Editor Zev Garber has done an outstanding job of assembling high quality scholar-teachers to explicate their framework for understanding Jesus in his social-historical setting. What makes the volume noteworthy for a faculty teaching theology and religion, however, is the reflection on how to teach this important subject in ways that are pertinently positioned for a variety of student audiences. Taken as a whole, the volume answers Rudolf Bultmann’s question, “Can there be exegesis without presuppositions?” with a resounding “no.” Each contributor clearly presents their own position, the background of their institutional context, and assumptions that surround the teaching of their group of students.

The collection is made up of twenty shorter essays and full comment on each cannot be made here. The first part of the volume examines teaching and student engagement from a variety of institutional contexts – primarily undergraduate, but including a rabbinical school and a Christian seminary. Further marks of delineation are private versus public; Protestant, Jewish, Catholic; and even a public community college. Some contributors function both in academia as well as in the training of religious leaders, formally or informally. Pedagogy is presented and explained, along with reflection on student questions, reactions, and participation in the learning process. The underlying purpose in doing this teaching work is to increase fruitful interfaith dialogue. The second section examines specific issues in teaching the historical Jesus – often these are difficulties encountered, with solutions suggested (for example, the use of art or cinema; the nature of Judaism and Jesus; the extended turn toward later Christian terms and theology; the use of gospel materials in reconstruction; clarity on the “parting of the ways”). The final section consists of four technically positioned essays about Jesus’s Jewish background and his roles within local, pan-Mediterranean, and larger political contexts of his society (who was Jesus among other males, the Pharisees, and political seditionists?).

If readers of Reflective Teaching believe that good teaching is enhanced by “good conversations about teaching,” then this volume is a gold mine. Garber has directed the contributors to be transparent about themselves, their contexts, and their students. This allows us to contrast them to our own pedagogies, experiences, expectations, and accomplishments or difficulties. In addition, we can be reminded that our own contexts may be busy and focused to the extent that we are unaware of or inattentive to the differing contexts and perspectives of colleagues that both warrant our notice and our conversation – thus increasing our respect, tolerance, civility, and openness to dialogue. And because much of the discussion in this book revolves around students, we have an opportunity to see the variety of perspectives that we might one day engage in the classroom ourselves. I highly recommend this book for those who teach early Christianity or introductory courses in which the historical Jesus is a significant subject of inquiry.

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Teaching the I Ching (Book of Changes)

Redmond, Geoffrey; and Hon, Tze-Ki
Oxford University Press, 2014

Book Review

Tags: I Ching   |   religious studies   |   teaching texts
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Reviewed by: Harold C. Washington, Saint Paul School of Theology
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
The I Ching (or Yijing, Book of Changes) is one of the great works of world literature, but at first approach it can be perplexing at best. Geoffrey Redmond is a scholar of textual criticism and Asian spiritual traditions (he is also an MD). Tze-ki Hon, professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo, is a specialist in Chinese cultural history and classical Chinese thought, including ...

The I Ching (or Yijing, Book of Changes) is one of the great works of world literature, but at first approach it can be perplexing at best. Geoffrey Redmond is a scholar of textual criticism and Asian spiritual traditions (he is also an MD). Tze-ki Hon, professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo, is a specialist in Chinese cultural history and classical Chinese thought, including the commentaries on the I Ching. Together these authors provide a judicious, illuminating account of this classic Chinese text. Teaching the I Ching is a valuable reference for scholars and students alike, and a superb sourcebook for teaching the I Ching at the undergraduate level.

The authors trace the complex history of the I Ching’s development through three millennia, beginning with its Bronze Age origins in divinatory practices using yarrow sticks, precursors of the hexagrams of the traditional work. The earliest texts, preserved on bound bamboo strips, are first attested to around 300 BCE, but they hearken back to much earlier exemplars. The first authoritative collection, known as the Zhouyi, was composed in the Western Zhou period, 1046-771 BCE. An expanded version of this text was “canonized” by royal decree in 136 BCE, deemed as a classic under the authority of Confucian tradition. In the modern era, archaeology has turned up many early witnesses to the text, largely from ancient tombs. These have spurred new assessments of the textual tradition.

In the modern era the I Ching has met varied fates. It came under sharp criticism at the hands of the Chinese “Doubting Antiquity Movement” of the 1920s. Mao Zedong banned the text, at times. During the Cultural Revolution the use of the I Ching for divination was widely regarded as a superstitious, “feudal” practice. Yet by the 1980s and 1990s a popular movement called “Yijing Fever” widely introduced new mass populations to the I Ching. There is also a survey of the reception of the I Ching in the West, from Christian missionaries encountering the work in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, to C. G. Jung’s engagement of the text, to the I Ching’s (dubious, perhaps?) status as a countercultural icon.

The book gives special attention to the role of women in the I Ching, especially the subordination of the feminine in the traditional Chinese yin/yang duality. There are also valuable chapters on the cosmology and ethical principles of the I Ching. The book closes with an extensive “Readers Guide” to the I Ching, describing the standard translations of the work, bilingual editions, concordances and reference works, online versions of the I Ching, and other digital resources. There is also a working orientation to the structure of the text, with instructions on how to consult the I Ching, should one wish to pose a question to this ancient, still vital text.

 

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