Thursday, August 20, 2009

New beginnings

I taught my first class of the year today, and it was one that was especially fraught with danger. For the second time in two years I'm teaching outside my department -- this time in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

Happily the students in my seminar on process theology were very kind. They nodded with understanding as I went over the syllabus, even the requirements which are probably less common in their classes than in the ones I usually teach, like shared notetaking, podcasting, and blogging. They contributed energetically to the brief discussion after we got done with the logistics. I left feeling like the class had a chance of working.

While we were taking a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner, Noel asked me whether I hoped to open eyes or change lives with this class. I really don't want to present the students with any kind of crisis, I answered. If the class has any goals for what I want the students to be (as opposed to what I want them to know or do), it's simply this. I want them to appreciate the honest struggle of some thoughtful religious people to find ways to be faithful in the twenty-first century -- ways to integrate understandings of the world that they can't easily deny with a belief in the transcendent that they have no desire to abandon.

There are a variety of attitudes toward religion in the class; that I can see from my informal first day survey. I have a student who leans toward Hinduism, another that leans toward Buddhism. I have two who cited interests in Christian apologetics, plus a couple of Catholics. There are a few students who didn't mention any religious belief, and one who stated that he's an atheist.

I think all those students will need to take some kind of journey to empathize with the impulses, desires, and needs that lead some religious thinkers to embrace process thought. It's hard to tell on the first day if they want to go there. But at least the friendly faces and open discussion give me hope that my goals aren't completely unrealistic. And at least we all know where we stand; it remains to be seen if we want to move.

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