Back at it…

We started a new term today. There were some great moments in the department as we all began our new courses: a colleague explaining a priori knowledge to two students in the context of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (!), which they are pursuing in an independent project. A discussion with a colleague about how to incorporate Ferguson into my course on Nonviolence this winter, with special attention to the role of religion: it can help people create narratives of hope and it can provide theological justification for the status quo. Students in class writing and talking about ideas of freedom and enchainment using Rousseau’s saying that “humans are born free but everywhere they are in chains.”

A good day. A good start. More soon!

Reza Aslan, Islam, and the Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching about Religion

(What this title lacks in pith it makes up for in accuracy.)

Reza Aslan is a historian of religions who happens also to be a Muslim. While these two identities can lead to confusion in certain members of the media (see this interview here), those matters are not the primary focus of this post. Instead, I want to use a recent interview Aslan did with CNN to illustrate the ways in which he utilizes a cultural studies approach to Religious Studies. Continue reading

Choosing a Concrete Image

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Choosing a Concrete Image: A Discussion

Small-groups, free-writes, or open-ended questions are my usual ways for starting a discussion in my classes. And while there can be value in routine, I do worry about a routine becoming a rut. With that concern in mind, I turned to Brookfield and Preskill’s superb Discussion as a Way of Teaching* and tried out one of the techniques they mention: choosing a concrete image. Continue reading

Mary Oliver, “The Buddha’s Last Instruction”

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We had our final day of the term yesterday. Two of my three classes were studying Buddhism, and the third was looking at post-Holocaust theology, trying to make sense of how to engage meaningfully with this fragile world.

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

We went to see the Dalai Lama!

Dalai Lama

Last Saturday, the Dalai Lama spoke at the Boston Garden, giving a talk entitled “Educating the Heart and Mind.” We sent four buses of students and faculty down — almost 150 people! Many, many thanks to all who attended, braving the elements (and the protesters) to hear his talk.

For those of you appreciating the Dalai Lama’s choice of headwear (or those who might wish he had worn something else), I can do no better than refer you to this ridiculous post here:

http://deadspin.com/the-dalai-lama-is-a-giant-bandwagoner-493979855

Consider, for example, this quotation: “Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, the latest in a long line of reincarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva embodiment of compassion. He’s also an insufferable homer who loves free hats.”

Amazing.