teaching world religions
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“Teaching is an art and not a science,” states David Blix, Wabash College. It is about “interacting with students” in a “friendly manner” which is to say that teaching is about what he does in his everyday life. A deeply engaged student-centered teacher of religions of the world, Blix was a Carnegie Scholar at the Carnegie Institute for the Advancement of Teaching in Palo Alto, California.
The “I” That Teaches - A new video project that invites senior scholars to talk about their teaching lives. These scholar-teachers candidly discuss how religious, educational, and family backgrounds inform their vocational commitments and, also, characterize their teaching persona. From the vantage point of a practiced teaching philosophy we get an intimate account of the value and art of teaching well.
Click here to watch all episodes of "The "I" That Teaches" on YouTube
Teaching Buddhism: New Insights on Understanding and Presenting the Traditions
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The contributors to this volume of the AAR Teaching Religious Studies series take different approaches to writing about teaching Buddhism. As the subtitle suggests, many of the essays focus on bringing teachers up-to-date on recent developments in scholarship. In their preface, the editors propose that the volume can be used “to revisit some of the key frontiers of knowledge in Buddhist studies, new arenas of study and application, and numerous topics that [instructors] should certainly revise in their presentations to students” (xiv). The volume thus endorses the idea that good teaching depends on familiarity with the best and most current scholarship in the field. There is little interaction with the extensive scholarship of teaching and learning.
Throughout the book more emphasis is put on what teachers themselves need to learn than on how they can present that material to students. The contrast is sometimes striking. In the final section on Buddhism in new academic fields, for example, the interesting essay on the history of Buddhist-Christian dialogue only broaches the topic of teaching with a short list of “recommended course books,” without any commentary, after the bibliography of references used in the essay (see 294-5). But the next essay, on teaching Buddhist bioethics, follows a brief adumbration of the field with a detailed analysis of a particular course on that topic, including a clear delineation of learning goals, analysis of a particular case study on abortion that features a detailed scenario that can be used in class, a list of pedagogical considerations for such a course, and a brief annotated bibliography of resources.
Readers will need to use this volume in different ways. Although it appears to be aimed primarily at teachers who have already devoted substantial effort to the study of Buddhism, many authors point out intersections with other academic fields, including ethics, environmental studies, economics, politics, gender studies, and philosophy. Three essays address Buddhism and the American context, with Charles Prebish offering a succinct history of the expansion of that sub-field and the concomitant growth of resources appropriate for the classroom. One essay, by Gary DeAngelis, focuses on teaching about Buddhism in the World Religions course, which, despite the persuasive critiques levelled at the concept, is still one of the most widely taught religion courses for undergraduates.
Two essays offer distinctive takes on the familiar insider-outsider problem. Jan Willis offers a compelling account of teaching about Buddhism as a Buddhist scholar-practitioner, including sample assignments and her Buddhist rationales for them (155). She also notes the negative perceptions of her standing as a “real” scholar caused by her religious commitments. Rita Gross explores the flip side of that situation, recounting the resistance to her introduction of academic understandings of Buddhist history into her work as a dharma teacher for Buddhist students at a meditation center.
Teaching Buddhism offers a rich array of resources for teachers, along with some specific suggestions about how to use those resources effectively in the classroom.
After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies
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. 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!