Article first published online: 1 JAN 2014
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Teaching Theology & Religion
Volume 17, Issue 1, pages 1–2, January 2014
How to Cite
Pearson, T. (2014), Editor's Note. Teaching Theology & Religion, 17: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/teth.12155
- Issue published online: 1 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 1 JAN 2014
“Should I require, not just encourage, my students to engage questions about racial injustice?” Karen Teel asks in the first article in this issue. She answers in the affirmative by carefully staking out her pedagogical commitments. But she finds a dearth of theoretically informed practical teaching strategies in the pedagogical literature to help her with the specific challenge of constructing antiracist pedagogies across her introductory theology survey course (which is a far more subtle challenge then simply designing a unit or a course in which racial injustice is the explicit topic). For this, the second article in this issue may offer some help. Anna Floerke Scheid and Elisabeth T. Vasko describe and analyze several pedagogical strategies that emerge from their multiyear study examining college students' resistance, dissonance, and other emotional responses in classrooms in which injustice and white privilege are the topic of learning. These two essays were unsolicited and submitted separately. It was simple coincidence that they emerged at the end of our editorial review process at the same time. But the happenstance struck us as fortuitous and we decided to solicit brief responses from each of the authors to the other's essay. The four-manuscript set comprises the entire Article section of this journal issue.
Stanley Fish, in his polemical book Save The World On Your Own Time (Oxford, 2008), famously answered “No!” to Karen Teel's question about engaging questions about racial injustice. Our training, he argues, is in our academic disciplines – not in politics or social justice movements. We ought to be arrested for malpractice if we seek to transform our students' character or their ethical and stances. The issue gets more complicated if you consider that this topic is indeed the academic discipline for these authors, teaching the liberal arts – in a Catholic University context. The opposition crudely posed between confessional and academic approaches in our field takes on a somewhat different cast when packaged alongside of the question of whether there are normative academic positions on racial and social justice issues that liberal art students might rightfully be required to learn.
Both of the manuscripts in the Article section clearly answer this question in the affirmative. But it is worth noting that the subject was not even broached during the nearly four-hour interview we conducted with Jonathan Z. Smith, and publish in this issue. Our first question in that interview – whether there are any defining characteristics to religious studies pedagogy – quickly raised the specter of students' religious commitments in the classroom. But none of us ventured into Stanley Fish's broader Gen Ed version of this question about the role of normative ethical and political stances in the university. Jonathan Smith has not been known for political advocacy, but he is among the few most important theoreticians in our field who has also written compellingly about teaching – chiefly about the place of the introductory religion course (and the religious studies curriculum more generally) within the liberal arts. In the interview published here we draw him out on specific strategies he has used in the classroom, and he opens up a broad critique of the devaluing of teaching as reflected in the preparation of doctoral students in the field.
Thus, considerable attention is given to specific classroom teaching techniques in this issue of the journal. This attention is augmented by three Teaching Tactics: Mara Brecht describes how she teaches her students to engage in discussion; David B. Howell explains the advantages of having students disclose their prior learning on the topic of the course during the first day of class; and Mark S. M. Scott analyzes how to teach students to read difficult texts carefully. These are three perennial and vexing challenges facing teachers of religion and theology in higher education. Sherry Jordan's “Note” in the Classroom section culminates this triumvirate of classroom practices with an extended description and analysis of how she uses short, frequent, low stakes “writing to learn” assignments in her Reformation class. She explains the theory behind assignments such as these, using writing as a process for critical thinking and learning the content of the course.
This continuum demonstrates how abstract ethical questions about normative stances in the classroom eventually become manifest in concrete teaching practices focused on reading, writing, and critical thinking – and this constitutes an abiding concern and mission of this journal. As always, we have included a dozen or so book reviews. In this case there are reviews of important books on student spirituality, teaching biblical literature in undergraduate contexts, an extended meditation on the mentors and disciples depicted in Rabbinic tales and what they can tell us about our teaching vocation, and several books about teaching online, a subject which continues to concern our generation.