Teaching Interreligious Encounters
Series: AAR Teaching Religious Studies
- ISBN: 9780190677565
- Published By: Oxford University Press
- Published: September 2017
Teaching Interreligious Encounters is in the American Academy of Religion (AAR)/ Oxford University Press series “Teaching Religious Studies.” As a volume, it developed from the AAR/Luce Foundation Summer Seminars on Comparative Theology and Theologies of Religious Pluralism which ran from 2009 to 2013. Many of the chapters, though not all, are quite explicitly theological or assume that students will see such encounters as a form of spiritual growth, though other chapters discuss teaching interreligious relations in more secular contexts. It is, as with many edited volumes, something of a mixed bag. There is a vast array of modes by which the topics are approached, from those that are quite pedagogically theoretical to those that are more descriptive of specific courses, and from those assume a Christian starting part to those that start from other places and traditions or assume no particular confessional base. The quality of contributions, and their contribution to thinking about teaching in this field, also varies as well. This diversity, though, certainly means that many instructors will find something of interest in here, though they may also find much that is not of use for various reasons.
The text is divided into five sections. Part 1 is entitled “Theorizing Encounters: Paradigms, Exemplars, Caveats, and Strange Bedfellows” and is a real assortment of different pieces, some of which have no explicit pedagogical aim. Part 2 is more focused on teaching methods and experiences and is termed “Designing Encounters: Teaching Interreligious Encounters.” Part 3, under the heading “Textual Encounters: Methods, Texts, and Traditions,” offers some very different approaches to interreligious encounters and are presented more as narratives of what has happened to try to show ways texts can be taught. Part 4, “Practical Encounters: Case Studies, Site Visits, and Immersion Programs,” does more or less what it says with half the section given over to exploring the case study method. Meanwhile, Part 5 is another set of oddments under the title “Formational Encounters: Preparation for Vocation and Citizenship.” It is hard to try to sum up any individual section, let alone the book as a whole, given its very different types of chapters and approaches in various sections. A few chapters may be quite useful to people with little background in teaching interreligious studies and without much subject specialization, while others seem geared more towards people with a greater degree of expertise in ways of reflecting on issues. Some chapters, however, seem to have been given over to quite personal or little thought-out explorations of issues. Greater guidance to authors and a stronger editorial hand may have made the text more useful. I would suggest instructors browse the contents and look for chapters that most relate to their own teaching areas.
Amongst the chapters I most benefitted from is that by Marianne Moyaert on “Interreligious Literacy and Scriptural Reasoning.” Moyaert explained the context of her own teaching and the methods she uses, as well as seeking to show the theoretical basis for them. In particular, she showed why and how she had used scriptural reasoning to great effect. Certainly, I do not think her method here would relate to my own context of teaching; nevertheless, it was a rich and deep chapter. The chapter by Devorah Schoenfeld and Jeanine Diller on “Using Hevruta to Do and Teach Comparative Theology” was another one in which the context was well explained and the method clearly laid out. While I would use it to a different end, I was quite inspired by their hevruta method. I had come across this before but never employed it, but can see from this clearly how it can be used. Hussam S. Timani’s chapter on “Interreligious Teachings on the Qur’an” was a very descriptive piece on how one instructor set out to teach in this field. It struck me as a chapter that may be useful for those new to teaching in this area as it shows one way to set up a course in this field, though it had its own particular angle. I would especially commend chapters 17 and 18 to all instructors seeking to learn more about the case study model, which is one I am integrating into my own teaching (indeed I am preparing a textbook which I hope will show its utility in the study of religion). These chapters are both clear and helpful. It may seem unfair to pick out specific authors as low points in the volume, but the final chapter was, for me at least, one of the least useful, being a set of very generalized and disconnected thoughts on what it termed “The Mystic Traveler in a Global Spiritual Age.” From journalistic images to study abroad, and mysticism to observing funerals in travel, it raised so many questions that it remained superficial.
Overall, I think this is a book that many teachers and instructors will benefit from. However, most will likely only find a few of its chapters particularly useful or relevant. This is not a weakness; it is testament to the great diversity of issues and approaches covered in this volume.
Paul Hedges is Associate Professor of Interreligious Studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Sinapore.Paul HedgesDate Of Review:January 15, 2018