From “Text” to Context in the Teaching of World Religions

By William Acres.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

While most “World Religions” curricula are employed in a wider view to liberal arts education, rather as specifically theological or religious-centered, there are several approaches which can be made to form a more constructive learning working with the existing “textbooks” circulating (treated here in English) in a kind of metaphysical way in diverse cultures whose needs are more concrete. This paper addresses two key ways in which the popular “World religions” curriculum can be, to paraphrase Tomoko Masuzawa, “re-invented” as an integral aspect of learner-based pedagogy. First, by taking the disembodied “text” and analyzing its role, content, and purpose as a learning object by situating it in the world of internet, online education, the context of learning will be seen to require what might be called energetic “points of reception”. Those points of reception can, in this second case, be seen as an individual and contextual reworking of the “world religions”, not by denying the content of the textbooks, but by subjecting its view to the actual societies, schools, and nations which employ them. While much scholarship has recently examined “religion”, “world religions”, and their definitions, this paper works on two broad themes (reception and contextualizing knowledge) to imagine avenues of engaging with what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls “social imaginaries” in which students discern their own sociological, philosophical, and political imaginations on global and local religious cultures.

Keywords: Social Imaginaries, World Religions, Points of Reception, Pedagogy

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.129-144. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.181MB).

Dr. William Acres

Professor, Centre for International and Comparative Studies, Theology, History, Huron University College/The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

Acres teaches “world religions” in a large research university, The University of Western Ontario, where the course is housed in a smaller liberal arts and theological school, Huron University College. Acres has a PhD from Cambridge University, and has been the recipient of numerous research awards and teaching awards. He chaired “Sacred and Secular in a Global Canada: Past, Present, and Future” in May 2009 at Huron, and is currently editing a book of essays on Canadian contemporary religious culture, rights, and media with interdisciplinary contributions, “Religion Unbound: Identity, Politics and Rights in Contemporary Canada”, forthcoming 2009.


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