Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, teaches seminars on Buddhist and Tibetan intellectual history and literature at Harvard Divinity School and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Gyatso aims to “cultivate an experimental and convivial atmosphere in the classroom” that encourages students to draw connections between the past and present, interrogate a diverse set of primary sources, and create a community that allows students to feel comfortable taking intellectual risks and asking questions. This is particularly important in her field, which is often unfamiliar and engages with historical contexts that may seem distant from contemporary issues. Gyatso inspires her students to draw connections between the literature, philosophy, religion, and arts of the past and contemporary conversations on topics ranging from identity to gender to climate. By encouraging students to ask questions and find links between past and present, Gyatso is able to help them find an entryway into otherwise unfamiliar topics.
Matthew Potts, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, teaches Introduction to Ministry Studies, a cohort introductory course designed for graduate students who intend to go into the interreligious ministry broadly. His course offers an introduction that spans a variety of religions and simultaneously cultivates a sense of community amongst students. While the course was traditionally conducted in a lecture format with some section discussions, Potts had to rethink the course’s structure completely when it shifted online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “I wanted to get people off screen,” he explains. Rather than sitting through a live lecture, students listened to podcasts of Potts and the teaching team conversing about the readings prior to each class. To ensure students would also engage with him directly, Potts also organized Oxford-style tutorials, with students meeting in groups of two or three and with a different member of the teaching team to discuss the course material. Students would write a one-page memo reflecting on the readings and present it to get the conversation going. “I wanted a place for students to come and continue the conversation and feel invested in what they had read or what they had listened to, but not in any burdensome way.”
As an historian of religions, Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America, conducts his courses through an ensemble approach, which enables students to learn about complex evidence from a variety of approaches, sources and mediums. This approach contains four parts: (1) using an interdisciplinary intellectual method, (2) incorporating a variety of sources, including artifacts, texts, films, and museum exhibitions; (3) expanding disciplinary perspectives through team teaching and visiting speakers; and (4) organizing diverse student experiences and inviting a range of responses. One example of the ensemble in action is Carrasco’s annual collaboration with the Peabody Museum on their Día de los Muertos exhibition as part of his Gen Ed course, Montezuma’s Mexico: Then and Now (co-taught with William L. Fash) in which students visit and add their own interpretations and art works to the ofrendas.
Cheryl Giles, Francis Greenwood Peabody Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Care and Counseling, shares her own experiences, missteps, and successes to demonstrate self-awareness for students in her course Counseling for Wellness and Resilience: Fostering Relational Wisdom. She encourages students to listen deeply to themselves and others without judgment by practicing mindfulness throughout the course.
When enrollment for seminar After Luther: Faith, Will, Law, and the Question of Goodnessdoubled last year, Michelle Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Theology, was concerned that the depth and quality of the connections—with and among students and the texts they read together—would diminish. In response, she modified some logistical elements including assigning different pairs of students to circulate brief response papers before class and then lead discussion each week.
Jacob K. Olupona, Professor of African and African American Studies and Professor of African Religious Traditions, collaborated with students from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013 to develop a team-taught course on entrepreneurship that would appeal to learners across the University. “They felt entrepreneurship was important and central to what people are doing.” Entrepreneurship in Africa is organized topically (e.g., agriculture, energy, healthcare) around the unique challenges and opportunities to launch and grow an enterprise in the African context. Course sessions are led by an interdisciplinary mix of invited Harvard instructorsfrom arts and sciences, business, education, law, and public health, as well as business leaders from Africa.
Emily Click, Assistant Dean for Ministry Studies, Director of Field Education, and Lecturer on Ministry Studies, facilitates a discussion with students early in the semester to agree upon norms for classroom engagement, including how to address any divergent behavior. Students prepare for the conversation by writing a journal reflection that illustrates what is most important to them and what helps them thrive as a learner.
Diane Moore, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies and Education, collaborated with HDS and FAS colleagues to produce a six-module, online course offering through HarvardX called World Religions Through Their Scriptures. They designed all digital material for optimal engagement of the 130,000 enrolled students: “It’s essential to provide language and tools in order for students from diverse worldviews, religions, experiences, ages, and regions of the world to constructively interact around topics that often divide us.”
Catherine Brekus, Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America, worked with Schlesinger Research Librarian Amanda Strauss this semester to design a session for her freshman seminar on Christianity and slavery: “When I arrived for our meeting, there was a table full of materials for me to look at—Amanda did so much work.”