Thursday, December 3, 2009

Teach and be taught

Today I convened the last meeting of my process theology seminar. It was a momentous semester and a momentous course for me -- my first time teaching in what some might consider my natural department here at the university. My appointment is in the Honors College, which teaches interdisciplinary classes. But my training, and the discipline where I do most of my scholarly work, is religious studies.

This semester I exchanged places with a professor from the Department of Philosophy and Religion. He taught an interdisciplinary seminar for the Honors College. And I taught a 4000-level seminar called Readings in Process Theology.

My dissertation works within the field of process theology. Most of my publications are in that field. But I had never taught a full course on the subject before this semester.

The course was a challenge in many ways. I was working with students who weren't necessarily well versed in theology in general, or Christian theology in particular. They were students in the religious studies minor in a public university; theology was not in their purview. From our initial conversations, I gathered that half or more of those enrolled were skeptical about the relevance of Christianity and/or the rigor of theology as a discipline. In fact, as I ended up conceiving it, major objectives of the class dealt with simply appreciating the task of religious people facing the contemporary situation and trying to find some way to continue living out traditions they believed were valuable.

Today I told my students that I was grateful to have spent this semester with them. If not for this course, I wouldn't have spent so much time this semester thinking and reading in process theology week after week. And I discovered some nuances and some ideas that surprised me. I learned. I don't know if my movement from understanding to deeper and broader understanding is as large as the movement I asked the students to make, but I know that it was more significant for me than they could imagine.

I've worked steadily and published regularly in this field for a decade. But this semester re-energized my theological muscles. I think it's probably important that I teach a disciplinary class outside my home department periodically. Meanwhile my scholarship has acquired a new momentum, and my confidence and determination has notched up accordingly.

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