Teaching In the Classroom of Good and Evil: Pedagogy, Religious Controversy, and the Liberal Arts College

AHA Session 138
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Harding Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Roy Campbell, Presbyterian College

Session Abstract

This panel will tackle the theme of “Disagreement, Debate, and Discussion” in the undergraduate, liberal arts classroom on three levels--historical and historiographical, pedagogical, and professional--by engaging the challenges of teaching contentious moments in world religious history. The intimate setting of small liberal arts classrooms provides an excellent venue in which to introduce students to the complexity of religious controversies that are likely to be as foreign to them as the lands and times in which they occurred. But, it also calls for a deft touch to guide students through what may be their first open and scholarly consideration of religion with peers who hold widely different ideas from their own.

The panelists will address four contentious issues in world religious history: witchcraft and demonology in Early Modern Europe and North America, ethno-religious tension and genocide in the late Ottoman Empire, the balance of religious and non-religious factors in Reformation conflicts, and an internal and external consideration of the Native American Church movement at the turn of the century. Each of the panelists will begin with a brief presentation of the historical and historiographical problem as they frame it for their students. They will then discuss how they use these controversies to spark disagreement, debate, and discussion in class to guide students in a critical evaluation of their own views on right and wrong, good and evil, and identity. Finally, our objective is to propose approaches that will, in turn, spark such disagreement, debate, and discussion among our peers who address similar topics and pedagogical hurdles.

The roundtable’s members provide particularly relevant points of view because of their varying but related experiences. Two panelists each are drawn from Denison University and Bridgewater College. In both cases, one faculty member is a relatively recent graduate and the other more experienced. Dr. Spierling graduated from Wisconsin--Madison in 2001 and taught at two state universities before joining Denison. Her colleague, Dr. Ozok-Gundogan ( SUNY Binghamton, 2011) spent a year at Cornell College before joining Denison. Dr. Versen graduated in 2006 from Florida State University and taught at four state institutions before beginning at Bridgewater College. His colleague, Dr. Brock, graduated from UT-Austin in 2012 and has begun her career at Bridgewater. The chair, Roy Campbell, graduated from FSU in 2002 and moved to Presbyterian College where he is now chair of the History Department. These converging careers allow the candidates to compare their different experiences, expectations, and perspectives in a productive way, which will resonate with peers at the conference and provoke a meaningful discussion of how we all approach the thorny historical and historiographical issues surrounding religion in the undergraduate classroom.

The roundtable discussion will be useful for a whole range of faculty, be they new professors who will be getting their own classrooms in the fall, or experienced faculty members who can share what has worked for them or may be seeking new ideas and approaches.

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