I have the pleasure and problem of, fairly regularly, getting to develop new courses at Concordia. I love it, but my perfectionist tendencies tend toward wanting to read every book ever in the field before constructing the syllabus (not that that’d be a bad thing, right?).
Next semester, I’m planning to teach Word to the Wise: Writing for Religious and Social Change. Below, I’m posting my thoughts so far with the hope that you, dear Internets, will suggest tweaks, correct horrendous ideas, and/or send me more boxes of books to read.
Course Description (draft)
REL 380: Word to the Wise: Writing for Religious and Social Change (Tu/Thrs 12:50-2:30)
Could wise Facebook use save the world? Did Twitter overthrow dictators in the Arab Spring? Can well-constructed sermons bring more people to church, or even, to God? Is Paul’s letter to the Galatians more an example of persuasive leadership or exasperated bluster?
This class considers texts (particularly modern ones) that have contributed to religious and social change. We will investigate these texts with a variety of approaches including theological, rhetorical, ethical, technical, and historical. Beyond reading others’ writing, however, this course requires you to write yourself—tweeting, essay writing, posting, list-making, newsletter-sending, petitioning, and pinning. In the course, you will have the opportunity to join—or even start—a movement for social change.
The course includes a significant off-campus learning element. Under the guidance of the instructor, you partner with a local organization, non-profit, congregation, ministry, or other group to learn about their approach to working towards social change. Together, you will launch a project of your own design that matches with the goals of your off-campus partner.
Book List (draft)
Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters—and How to Talk About It by Krista Tippett (2008)
Tippett, host of NPR’s show “On Being,” is one of the few folks in America that consistently draws huge audiences to discussions of “religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” Part memoir, part self-aware argument, the book could introduce the class to one way of approaching faith-full discussions today. Also, it’d beg for using podcasts of the show in the course somehow.
Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by Walter Brueggemann, (2014)
Classic Brueggemann, this book reads our lives into the Old Testament (particularly the prophets) in a way that both illumines scripture and contemporary realities. Also, I think grief must become a more regular part of our cultural experience.
Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Square, Mark Douglas (2010)
How could I not use this book? (In fact, I’ve flirted with calling the course “Believing Aloud” instead of “Word to the Wise.”) Douglas, a former Christian ethics professor of mine, for several years wrote for a local free paper in Atlanta. The book collects his columns (on war, healthcare, political debate, etc.) amidst his reflections on writing the essays. In fact, it makes me wonder if I might make a deal with the Red River Valley’s High Plains Reader to send them weekly articles by students on religion and social issues. Hmmm….
Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher (2007)
Pipher accepts that we live in troubled times, but believes writes can swoop in to serve as a “rescue team for our tired, overcrowded planet” by “tell[ing] stories that connect readers to all the people on earth.” It’s a book I’d assign not because I always accept her optimism regarding the power of writing, but because I’d love for her to be right.
Writing and Editing for Digital Media by Brian Carroll (2014)
Digital writing matters. I expect most of the students’ projects will include significant forays into digital rhetoric. They’ll have to make decisions about fonts, blog formatting, Facebook posting, etc. I don’t know the field particularly well, but it’s the best book I’ve found thus far that addresses these topics in a straightforward, helpful way.
Well, a ton of things, of course. I’m hyperaware that I’d need to fill-in more historic writings along the way (e.g. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Wallis’ early writings on faith and politics, maybe some abolitionist materials, etc.). My sweet spot is more contemporary Christian-influenced social and theological commentary, so one of my areas of concern is getting the balance right between my wheelhouse and some of my students’ historical, interfaith, and/or less-theological considerations. I’ll also likely add in some basic religion and media short texts.
I’ve attempted to find a solid anthology that considers religion and social change, but I’ve struck out so far. Ideas are welcome.
Finally, I now need to move to more careful work on assignments. I’m leaning towards, at the moment, assignments that allow for multiple options. I’m also considering a course blog—but only if I can figure out how to do it really well. Examples?
So, dear readers, I’m always hungry for feedback. What’s your ideas for other books? Assignments? Glaring omissions?
image by Jared and Corin