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Digital Identity and Everyday Activism: Sharing Private Stories with Networked Publics
Date Reviewed: September 20, 2016
This small book is a brilliant example of grounded research that is thoroughly infused with theoretical insight and practical engagement. At first glance people looking for pedagogical wisdom might not be attracted by the title, but at the center of the book are questions of identity and everyday activism – topics that are vitally important in the midst of higher education contexts permeated with fears of “coddling students” and arguments over the value of “trigger warnings.”
Vivienne is based at Flinders University of South Australia. This book draws on her background in media production and working with marginalized communities towards social change, and focuses on research she did with GLBTQ communities learning how to create in a specific form of digital storytelling:
Digital stories are short (3-5 minutes) rich media autobiographical videos, combining personal photographs and /or artworks, narration, and music. They are traditionally created in a workshop context that takes place over 3-4 days and includes a story circle, technical instruction, and celebratory screening for fellow storytellers and invited guests. (3)
Because persons within GLBTQ communities must constantly negotiate how they represent themselves, when and how they claim specific forms of identity, and in what ways they make these claims publicly, digital storytelling offered a compelling medium for a research project interested in exploring the challenges of sharing private stories with networked publics. The book is full of descriptions of how these stories emerged, with links to specific videos referenced available online.
Vivienne’s work is both participatory and activist in methodology, drawing on the theoretical work of scholars such as Benhabib, Butler, Young, boyd, Jenkins, Bahktin, and Foucault. She ensures that the complexity of these theoretical interventions are made vividly accessible by using them to attend to the conundrums of claiming identity in the midst of highly contested spaces. She highlights the capacity of digital storytelling for reaching across various forms of difference:
bridge building is reflected in the capacity to negotiate one’s position as a part of or apart from networked publics – including familiar, intimate, counter, and unknown. Digital storytelling creates opportunities to ‘bring things up,’ to broach difficult discussions ‘out in the open.’ Ownership of one’s position in society (as represented in a digital story) is reflected in the capacity to receive and give affirmation. Further, public expression of marginalized voices opens space for others to speak as they also negotiate how and where they fit in the world. As a medium that facilitates speaking across difference and bridge building, digital storytelling evokes the profound significance of participatory media as a widespread global phenomenon. (196-197)
Along the way she defines and describes digital storytelling, everyday activism, erosive social change, and a concept she names “Intimate Citizenship 3.0,” as well as exploring issues of identity, nominalization, authenticity, coherence, and congruence in such media.
Her research concludes with four specific findings:
Institutions and facilitators can be transparent in actively acknowledging their discursive mediating influence upon the construction of individual and collective identities.
[A]wareness of networked identity work provides an opportunity to sculpt congruent rather than coherent narratives and this labour can have both personal value and constitutive cultural value.
[A]ctive consideration of distribution of private stories amplifies personal and social benefits, especially as a tool for everyday activism.
[I]nitiatives benefit from reflective analysis of cross-disciplinary community engagement strategies, social movement theory, and strategic listening across difference. (205-206)
While this book does not directly highlight pedagogies for religious studies or theology classrooms, it is full of stories in which workshop participants confront and contest religious claims their families, their communities, and broader “imagined” publics are making. By offering compelling descriptions of ways to engage such meaning-making that invite people into dialogue across various divides, this book embodies transformative adult learning and offers a rich collection of pragmatic advice for nurturing such learning.
Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom: Hybrid Identities, Negotiated Boundaries
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 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.
Turning Teaching Inside Out: A Pedagogy of Transformation for Community-Based Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Debates about the purpose and quality of education tend to center on evaluative tools and the number of persons successfully completing courses of study. The assumption being that education’s primary purpose is to prepare a workforce for a competitive market place. These and several other assumptions about the process and goals of education are challenged in the encouraging text Turning Teaching Inside Out: A Pedagogy of Transformation. This collection of essays written by participants in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program describe and analyze a pedagogy that in form, content, and process reflects the educational goals of developing critical thinking skills, integrative learning for comprehensive application, and empowerment. For those who value education as the forming of persons who can positively contribute to and impact society, this program is an affirmation of the promise and power of liberative pedagogies and service education programs.
The Inside Out Prison Exchange program brings together students from universities and prisons to study and learn, initially about the criminal justice system and its social implications, but now encompassing a wide range of subjects: sociology, philosophy, performance art, social work, literature, and law. A liberative model based on the seminal work of Paolo Freire, students and teachers come together across multiple lines of difference to critically reflect on the social issues that impact and contribute to this nation’s alarming incarceration rate, especially of people of color. Utilizing a dialogical methodology, questions are raised, not only about the content of issues, but also about the very process of learning. A space of respect and mutuality is created through icebreakers and small group work, the negotiation of norms, and expectations. Learning is engaged with the basic assumption that all present are both teacher and student. Questions and dialogue lead to strategies for change and when the semester is over, many commit to the ongoing work of community education through projects that expand their experience to incorporate institutional decision makers, politicians, family members, and community organizations dedicated to improving the criminal justice and educational systems. These think tanks and policy development groups lead to praxis, concrete engagement of the systems that impact and contribute to the violence, and social integration explored in the class setting. The ripple effect moves beyond the prison walls and even the collaboration necessary to run this program and expand it internationally are a product of the mutual and collaborative relationships formed through this Inside Out transformational pedagogy.
The essays include historical analysis of the current prison industrial complex, the personal transformation that humanizes social service professionals, the community and political organizing of alumni and the different contexts in which this model has been successfully applied, as well as articles about research methodologies and variations and outgrowths of the original program. The appendices helpful, offering models of the activities and frameworks utilized by the program. These first hand reflections provide rich material for analysis and application useful for all educators. I was left wanting more detail about the setbacks and challenges, especially as the program was replicated and expanded to different contexts. Some strategies are suggested (for example, start the collaboration with people on the ground not necessarily administration ) that suggest lessons learned through hard experience and I can only imagine the number of obstacles overcome given the stringent limits set by this particular context. This text invites educators to reconsider or renew their commitment to personal and social transformation. It is an important resource for those seeking to strengthen and improve education everywhere from the inside out.
Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The genesis of this book was a Learning and Teaching conference held at the Sydney College of Divinity that focused on issues and practices in theological education from the perspective of Australia and New Zealand. The aim of the book is to “generate further impetus in charting effective ways to make progress along the important journey of delivering relevant contemporary educational experiences for the learners of theology” (7). For the most part the book succeeds in doing this. It contains seven sections. Section 1, and in particular the essay “Where are We Going,” sets the stage well for the other essays and sections of the book. This essay argues that the philosophical starting point for theological education is student-centered learning and teaching. This pedagogical philosophy then answers the questions about what shall be taught (content of theological learning and teaching), how it will be taught (methods of learning and teaching), and how the curriculum is built. Section 2 gives a biblical road map, using the apostle Paul as a model of a theological educator, that centers on learning communities and their effects on the immediate context and implications for theological education today.
Section 3 constitutes a strength of the book since it brings together the philosophical, curricular, and theological theories about learning and teaching into an integrative whole connected to formational assessment. The various essays are informed by the works of David Ford and Walter Brueggemann, integrative and transformative learning theories, and multiple intelligences, to name a few.
The book transitions in Sections 4 and 5 to a more practical focus that brings theory and practice together from the medical and health science disciplines to enhance theological education, and the use of technology. The two essays in Section 4 look at lessons that theological education can learn from medical education; they challenge theological education to move from an emphasis on competencies to a focus on capabilities that adapt to contextual changes that in turn improve ministerial practice. The essays in Section 5 center on e-learning technologies and its impact on the learner from formational, instructional design, gamification, and embodiment perspectives.
The last two sections continue to emphasize practice and give creative examples of innovative practices from theological practitioners around teaching and learning methodologies. These include problem-based learning, transformative pedagogy in the context of cross-cultural experiences and traditional courses, and workplace formation. The last two essays feature teaching and learning from a non-Western context.
The editors laid out the direction of the book well in that it generally moves from a theological, philosophical, and pedagogical core to learning and teaching practices. However, in a book of this nature with multiple authors, there is an unevenness in the depths of the essays. That is, some essays give excellent theoretical depth and description, fresh analysis of data, creative accounts of practice that oftentimes challenges the theological status quo, or thoughtful theological and pedagogical integration, while other essays do not. Having said this, the book does present fresh thinking and offers innovative practices about the theological education enterprise and as a result urges continual and effective development.
The up-tick of media covered violence in the USA, as well as the reports of violence from around the world, causes me to pause. While I believe that experiencing the pain, suffering, and uncertainty of the world is calling us to become a nation of compassion, forgiveness, respect and equity, ...