Thursday, May 10, 2018

Class act

A little muffled because of the student academic workers' strike and many faculty (including yours truly) holding class off-campus so as not to cross their picket line, the academic year is coming to a close.

"Performing the Problem of Suffering: The Book of Job and the Arts" effectively wound up on Monday, with a remarkable showcase of student creative projects. Ranging from engraved wood inspired by Jung's Answer to Job to a near-operatic scene of a livid Mrs Job, by way of a video game, a chapbook weaving Job with Mary Oliver and a short film of interviews, it was an impressive display. I'm planning on taking several of them with me to Beijing, where I'll be teaching a course on similar, if less religious, matters this July. It was gratifying to get to know the students through these final projects - since the course was a lecture, I didn't have the satisfaction of a personal relationship unfolding over the semester. But the quality and seriousness of these projects confirms that the class was an occasion for meaningful and open-ended exploration - at least for those students who volunteered to share their work with the wider class.

"Religion and Ecology" ended in Union Square today, with final reflections and snacks. In the shimmering shade of new green, as tree seeds and the occasional wasp wafted by, the class plighted their troth to ecological awareness and to New York City. "Bioregionalism" and the embedded ethics of indigenous peoples appealed to them, but, really, the city is where they want to be. It's part of nature too, after all - let's find ways of making our cities ecological! What about religion, I asked, interjecting everything from Ramadan to older Hindus' withdrawal from the world to Japanese linguistic fillips of gratitude to the sacrifice of the first born, but we've been there done that. Apparently it was good to learn about different traditions' ways of making sense of our planetary existence - especially the 'liquid ecology' of Daoism and the 'honorable harvest' of Native American nations - but none of them seems to help much in practice. Still, it's good to acknowledge the ecological crisis as a spiritual one, as connected to spiritual questions and practices.

I must have been doing something right: there seem to be students from both classes signed up for "Theorizing Religion" this Fall!

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