Thanks to a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology, eight faculty members at Candler School of Theology (Emory University, Atlanta) participated in a seminar on Transnational Pedagogy during 2010-2011. Some of us focused on improving the way we teach courses about topics or issues that are transnational in nature. Some of us focused on issues related to diversifying the syllabus. Some of us focused on pedagogical skills that improve learning in ethnically and culturally diverse classrooms.All of these efforts fall under the umbrella of transnational pedagogy.
In our monthly meetings, we discussed each other’s syllabi and substantive issues raised in common readings. Participating faculty represented the disciplines of Biblical Studies, Mission and Evangelism, Worship, Theology, and Ethics. The syllabi under consideration came from introductory and elective courses in these areas, as well as, the foundational seminar for students in Candler’s ThM program. In our discussions and readings, we considered a range of issues, including culture, language, Freirean method, embodiment in the classroom, Eucharistic liturgy, learner-centered teaching, and hermeneutics. Our final task as a seminar was to explain succinctly how we understand transnational pedagogy in relationship to our particular course.The following response relates to my course, Religion, Violence, and Peacebuilding, and constituted one piece of our seminar’s very diverse set of definitions and reflections.
First, transnational pedagogy emphasizes the contextual and migratory aspects of our subject matter. Incorporating transnational pedagogy into “Religion, Violence, and Peacebuilding,” for example, means that we study the contextual aspects of a particular conflict and the peacebuilding efforts attempted there; and that we consider the ways in which conditions for violence and peace in that particular place are impacted by the migration of people, culture, commerce, weapons, and ideologies, among other things. We study context in order to understand the particular forms of religious violence and religious peacebuilding that emerge in discrete geographic locations. And we emphasize migration in order to see that what emerges from that discrete location is not conditioned solely by indigenous factors. Attending to migration helps us perceive connections between places not by zooming out to the most generic and bland attribute, but by charting mutual impact in specific, historical ways.
Second, transnational pedagogy requires a team of teachers working together to understand and convey the multiple dimensions of the subject. Ideally, the contextual specifics of the material are taught by persons from that context, or persons who have intimate knowledge of the context.Ideally, the migratory elements are taught by persons steeped in the respective discipline (e.g., anthropology, economics, political theory, religious studies). Given the realities of faculty life and institutional structures, however, team-teaching is difficult to achieve. In lieu of that, transnational pedagogy can be advanced through interdisciplinary readings and using a variety of contextual-specific sources. Technology also affords opportunities to bring those at a geographical distance into the classroom for guest lectures. And maintaining relationships with organizations working in the field opens the opportunity to bring in knowledgeable guest speakers.
Third, transnational pedagogy is learner-centered teaching. It takes into account the varied experiences of students in the classroom, recognizing and utilizing expertise and also accommodating different backgrounds. Accommodation, here, primarily means building into the design of the course some flexibility for students to explore aspects of each conflict that are particularly meaningful given their own vocational direction. The over-arching goal in this classroom is not coverage and assessment of a certain amount of material, but rather fostering a set of practices for learning and for religious leadership in a world that is both interconnected and violent.
* Professor Ellen Ott Marshall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Conflict Transformation at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and received the Eagle’s Wings Excellence in Teaching Award by vote of the Candler Class of 2011.