In a day and age which brings more and more cultures closer together, processes of globalization, too, yoke religion and religious belief to closer points of contact and, of course, conflict. Yet as we live in a multicultural and thus multi-religious environment, religious literacy is alarmingly low as Diana Eck would note of Christians in the United States: they “‘are pretty abysmally ignorant about the religious traditions of the rest of the world’” (Eck in Prothero 2007).
Illiteracy can have severe negative consequences: intolerance, hatred, persecution, oppression, and violence just to name a few. As religious studies educators, our job is to promote and assist in my students becoming more religiously literate, thus dispelling such negative outcome. But how do we do that? Is it enough to transmit information as best we can—mouthpieces, in a way, of religious traditions—passing on their wisdom? My experience has shown that such an approach is a bare minimum one and I often wonder how much knowledge my students retain after the semester is over. This basic question and my response to it have urged me to continuously seek new ways of exploring course material beyond tests and traditional research papers.
History shows quite clearly that religion inspires an impulse to create. Social psychologists Daniel Batson, Patricia Scheonrade, and Larry Ventis (1993) even suggest that the dynamics of the creative process can also apply to religious experience, a sentiment I share in my approach to my religious studies classes. What follows are descriptions of a variety of different creative assignments that I have implemented in my classes, coupled with a discussion of the goals and end results of these projects.
With so much focus on comprehension, analysis, and synthesis of course material in a rigorous academic setting, it is my belief that we may often neglect different faculties of leaning. Such characteristics of learning, while valuable in and of themselves, focus on rationality and an ability to reason. The projects I have developed are designed to (re)introduce students to different learning faculties—a learning that can be achieved and demonstrated through creative means. By giving students alternate means to express their understanding of often very deep and meaningful material, it is my general goal in such assignments to give students different tools by which to understand their experience, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. In addition to this general goal, it is my hope in these assignments that through creative expression, students can also come to know themselves more deeply in varying degrees. Creative expression, I would argue, is an avenue through which a student can achieve this goal in a way that is limited in a traditional education that focuses on comprehension, analysis, and synthesis.
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