Academic Exchange Quarterly Summer 2004: Volume 8, Issue 2

Teaching Mindfully
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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. [1] 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.” [2] 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 
preconceptions.

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. 

End Notes
[1] K. Connie Kang. “Spiritual Blend Appeals to People of Many Faiths.” 
    Los Angeles Times. December 27, 2003: B2.
[2] Ibid.

Heather Ann Ackley, Ph.D., Azusa Pacific University, CA 

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