Academic Exchange Quarterly
Summer 2004: Volume 8, Issue 2
To cite, use print source rather than this on-line versions.
Teaching Mindfully: Encountering Student Spiritualities
In a 2003 Los Angeles Times story, journalist K. Connie Kang compares the
“Do-It-Yourself Religion” or “mix and match spirituality” of contemporary Americans
to choosing combinations from a buffet or wardrobe or editorially “cutting and
pasting” in a word processing program.  A comment by theologian Edmund Gibbs
of Fuller Theological Seminary suggests the impact of such syncretistic religious
thinking may be having on our students: “Younger people live with ambivalence.
It’s not either or but both and.”  These student attitudes inform the articles
on teaching religion in this issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly.
Although on the surface, the authors, their teaching contexts, and the issues they
address seem to have little overlap, all explore the pluralistic teaching context
and diverse expectations affecting the study of religion in the United States and
Europe. James Nelson and Norman Richardson reflect on the challenges of creating
an ethos of diversity and inclusion while teaching university-level religious
studies in religiously divided Irish society. Julia Nagy, of the Research Group
for Old Hungarian Dramas, proposes a new method for Jesuit drama research,
considering the religious and mythological meanings of drama as a lens to examine
how it articulates group identity and aims at religious education. Daniel C.
Elliott, who teaches education at a private Christian university in California,
evaluates methods of reintegrating character education and a values-oriented
curriculum into public education, though such ideas are now more closely associated
with religious education. Paul Levesque, who teaches comparative religion at a
California State University, proposes methods for helping Christian students in a
multicultural, multireligious context to analyze how varying methods of biblical
interpretation and differing levels of tolerance for internal theological diversity
impact religious views of homosexual behavior. Mary Kremer, who teaches education
at a midwestern Dominican university, describes the methods used by secondary
religion teachers to incorporate multicultural teaching strategies in urban schools
and the resulting increase in student desire to participate in creating a more just
society. Marilyn Gottschall, who teaches religious studies at a private liberal arts
college in southern California, discusses the ways an assignment to recite the
Qur’an in Arabic in a world religions class affects student stereotypes and negative
Each educator describes a conflict created by religious ways of thinking and knowing,
either in the classroom setting or in approaches to research. Gottschall confronts
an implicit conflict between those inside and outside a particular religious
tradition, a tension exacerbated by the stereotypes and assumptions of students
outside the tradition they are studying. In some cases, however, the educational
conflict is created by different perspectives within the same religious tradition,
as in Nelson and Richardson’s Irish context or Levesque’s exploration of theological
diversity among Christians. In still other cases, the conflict is between, on the
one hand, scholarly approaches that segregate religious values from the study of a
discipline and, on the other hand, a more multi-dimensional approach that considers
religious and other normative pedagogical strategies, as Nagy and Elliott do.
Finally, Kremer addresses another conflict between those with varying pedagogical
strategies -- those who promote and those who reject multicultural teaching
strategies in religious institutions of higher learning.
These educators all share with us methods for dealing with these conflicts, borne
of their diverse experiences as teachers and scholars. Their sincere compassion for
students and fellow educators caught in and struggling with these tensions is
evident and seems to drive their teaching and scholarship. Clearly, they invite us
to confront these difficulties together, working through the pain of stereotypes,
rejections, anger, and divisions that are often exacerbated by any effort to teach
with reference to religious issues. This is difficult and disciplined spiritual and
pedagogical work. Both those in religious institutions of higher learning and those
in secular educational settings may sometimes prefer to avoid engaging these issues,
perceiving them as either irrelevant or overly divisive. However, engaging the
tension within and between conflicting value systems may produce deeper and more
holistic pedagogical and spiritual results.
 K. Connie Kang. “Spiritual Blend Appeals to People of Many Faiths.”
Los Angeles Times. December 27, 2003: B2.
Heather Ann Ackley, Ph.D., Azusa Pacific University, CA
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