About this Project
This website was designed to accompany a Special Issue of the Wabash Center Journal on Teaching, published in the summer of 2020 and designed to help Instructors in Religious Studies and related disciplines as they planned their Fall classes.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Engaging the Political in the Religious Studies Classroom: Lessons from Studying Religion in Late Antiquity
GUEST EDITOR’S NOTE
Diane Shane Fruchtman
Abstract: How and why should scholars of pre-modern topics in Religious Studies responsibly incorporate politics into the classroom? This piece introduces the reader to these questions and our motivations for asking them as scholars of late antiquity. It orients readers to this Special Issue, framing the contributors’ motivations for wanting to engage politics in the classroom and for producing this special issue. It introduces “late antiquity” and addresses the question of how religious studies instructors, whether teaching late ancient topics or not, can responsibly address the political present.
Kristi Upson-Saia and Maria Doerfler
Abstract: This essay serves to situate this special issue within its temporal, disciplinary, and pedagogical context. It aims to set out the uniquely inflected challenges and opportunities that the study of late antiquity confronts at the beginning of this new decade. The increasing deployment of pre-modern sources for the construction of political ideologies; students’ desire for relevant education; and increasing urgency of confronting both phenomena in intellectually and pedagogically responsible fashion, provide the impetus for both this issue and the 2017 workshop on politics and pedagogy that initially brought its contributors into conversation. This essay provides readers with background on workshop participants’ initial discussions about motivations for teaching politically-relevant (and sometimes politically-charged) courses; the relationship between such courses and the mandates of higher education; and the relevance of both religious studies and late antiquity to political discourse. The essay then charts the conversation’s trajectories beyond the workshop, provides definitional clarification of politics and the political, and offers a more focused theorization of the value added by our position as scholars of religion in late antiquity. In the process, this essay, in conjunction with the guest editor’s Note, lays the theoretical foundation for the special issue at hand and orients readers to the articles and pedagogical materials gathered therein.
Sara Ronis and Travis Proctor
Abstract: In this article, we argue that civic engagement is fundamental to the stated work of the university, the humanities, and the project of religious studies. We trace the historical connections between civic engagement and higher education in the American context to the present period, highlighting a consistency of focus on civic engagement across diverse university contexts even as educational priorities and instantiations shift. We then explore the particular role of civic engagement in religious studies pedagogy. We contend that being explicit about integrating civic engagement in the late antique religion classroom, rather than dismissing it as either difficult to incorporate or as tangential to our subject areas, actually enhances our students’ ability to understand complex concepts in late antique religion and underscores for them how relevant the study of late ancient religion is to students’ lives today. We ultimately offer three ways that instructors in religious studies can incorporate civic engagement into their classes: cultivating naming practices, focusing pedagogical exercises on honing students’ civic engagement skills, and, where practicable, engaging in community-based learning.
Kathleen Gibbons and Diane Shane Fruchtman
Abstract: Responsible academic inquiry depends upon our willingness to examine critically the ways in which experience informs scholarly work. In the classroom, however, introducing such examination through direct disclosure poses risk to all students and instructors, especially those of marginalized identities. We argue that the academic study of late antique religions, in its literature and methods, provides opportunities for investigating positionality while circumventing the requirement of such disclosures by classroom participants.
Diane Shane Fruchtman and Chan Sok Park
Abstract: Once we acknowledge that we cannot escape politics in the classroom, it is imperative that we, as instructors, adapt our pedagogy accordingly, with the knowledge that our choices in the classroom will replicate, reinforce, or resist the political status quo. The political embeddedness of religion makes this all the more urgent for instructors of religious studies, as we attempt to guide students through explorations of communities, identities, histories, ideologies, and representations of human experience which all have political implications in the present. This article delineates several parameters for crafting our pedagogical initiatives, offering classroom climate considerations to keep in mind while we establish our own best practices. It then offers several suggestions – structural, instructor-focused, and student-focused – of best practices to implement in the religious studies classroom so as to achieve optimal learning outcomes for all of our students. Key among our conclusions is that inclusive pedagogy is effective pedagogy in religious studies.
Shawkat Toorawa and Maria Doerfler
Shanell T. Smith and Diane Shane Fruchtman
NOTES & LEARNING DESIGNS
Abstract: Teaching the historical study of the New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Tennessee requires creativity, confidence, and compassion. The forty-person upper-level “Introduction to the New Testament” course that I teach every year is the most challenging and the most pedagogically interesting class that I teach, and also the most rewarding. My goal in this class is to make space for a variety of responses to the material while teaching the students the context and history of the New Testament texts as well as how to think critically about the politics of their interpretation. The challenge in my classroom is to take the diverse passions that my students bring to the class and help them all to engage together critically with both the historical study of early Christianity and the politics of its interpretation that are so visible in the world around them.
Christopher M. Jones
Abstract: Professors have an obligation to respond in real time to politically charged events in society, whether they are in the news or in our students' lives on campus (or both). So how do we do that without replicating our own biases and/or confirming our students’ worst stereotypes of us as teachers? In a Twitter thread, with research-based supporting materials, I discuss the reasons why we should engage our students in conversations about politically-charged events and some of the best practices that I have discovered for doing it. I apply my practices to several complex, controversial current events: national anthem protests at sporting events, the Indigenous Peoples' March confrontation, and a racist incident on my own campus.
Abstract: After the 2016 elections, students at Macalester College, a small private liberal arts college in Saint Paul, Minnesota, encouraged the faculty and staff to combat hate, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy in and out of the classroom. These students inspired me to reconsider the way that I taught my introductory New Testament course. In this essay, I present the process by which I redesigned the course to explore not only the historical context of the New Testament texts but also our present political context and the ways it shapes biblical interpretation. The redesigned syllabus includes scholarship representative of the feminist, post-colonial, African American, Latinx, Asian-American, Jewish, queer, and other liberationist and identity-based approaches to the study of the New Testament.
Abstract: This is an annotated lesson plan for a class discussion and activity about Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans in an “Introduction to the New Testament” undergraduate course. The primary aim of this lesson plan is to help students develop a vocabulary to discuss ethnicity and belonging. In the first part of the activity, students closely read Galatians and Romans and were able to articulate how Paul differentiates between Jews and Gentiles, and further, how their differences are important for how each group achieves the crucial status of righteousness. In the second part, students drew comparisons between Paul’s seemingly universalizing statement in Galatians 3:26-29 and contemporary political discourses that employ universalizing/particularizing dichotomies. Specifically, they analyzed the #AllLivesMatter response to #BlackLivesMatter and how Paul might respond to both.
Abstract: In this learning design, the book of Ruth is read closely and critically in order to foster dialogue about political issues in the classroom. Using bell hooks’ model of engaged pedagogy, political issues such as feminism, immigration, gender, sex, and consent are carefully addressed through the pedagogical strategies described. Teachers may use all of the strategies in a full unit on Ruth, or they may choose one or two to implement in a single class. Cobb suggests the use of polling, creative expression through drawing, videos, small group discussions, and maps to incite thoughtful conversation about relevant political issues and the book of Ruth.
Chan Sok Park