One of the trade-offs of my recent vacation and research trip to the U.K. was that I had to miss the first week of classes. In our “Inquiry Studies” class we were simply doing introductions, so I joined the class by video for a few minutes. But in my “Introduction to the Religions of the West” I had a more difficult task.
Even without meeting them I knew that this relatively small class would be a mix between local, Canadian, American, and International student. They would have profoundly different experience of religion, including passionately committed Christians and Muslims, Sunday School and Catechism drop-outs, hard-boiled New Atheists, Chinese students with no experience of religion, and students committed to progressive politics of identity. I also know that there will be a mix of learning styles, a diversity of language abilities, and a number of students with identified and unidentified learning disabilities.
How do I get that mix of students ready to explore some of the more complex and profound traditions of human culture when I’m not even there?
I decided to take a risk. I approached the questions sideways by creating a number of short videos–minidocs or mini-Vlogs–with the hope of triggering interest in a single question: Given that we are in an increasingly secular, post-religious world, why does religion matter today? In a series of short 3-5 minute videos on location in various parts of the U.K., I take up one of the reasons why the study of religion matters. From Stonehenge to old London, from cathedrals to synagogues and community centres I explore this question with a quick thought about why religious studies are profoundly relevant today.
I decided there was some value in sharing them with you all. This is a faith and culture blog, after all. And the majority of readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia are American, where an upcoming election will be decided in part by people trying to work out how their faith commitments align with the political commitments of the candidates and their parties. There are deeper needs, though, than a moment of heightened tensions. Not least of which is the way that we live as neighbours in our increasingly diverse, globalized, and religiously ambiguous worlds. The story of the 21st century will be, I believe, the way in which religious commitment has profoundly changed.
Now, a word of warning: These are not highly produced videos. Quite the opposite, actually. One is held by my son and is pretty shaky. The last one is quite windy and in a busy street. You’ll need headphones for them all. They are all produced on cell phones with almost no editing. I don’t have dramatic music, or even the right clothes. People are walking in and out of what really are rogue videos–filmed without permission in public and protected spaces. They are loosely scripted, and there is a factual error in one of the videos. At one point the sun set right in my face in the middle of the video and I couldn’t see the camera four feet away. We had no budget, and we spent it all.
Still, you might find these videos beneficial. I think the question is a good one and this kind of series helpul. But the teachers amongst us must be intrigued about the ways we can invite creativity and new kinds of learning experiences into our classrooms. This is my amateur attempt to spice up student learning, so I hope you enjoy.
#1: Why Religion Matters: Stonehenge and the Religion of the Ancients
#2: Why Religion Matters: Bath and the Old Gods
#3: Why Religion Matters: The Chester Cathedral and the Marketplace
#4: Why Religion Matters: The Tower of London and the Church of England
#5: Why Religion Matters: Art and Life in Wales
#6: Why Religion Matters: Hyde Park and Sharing Faith
#7: Exile and Home: Jewish Life in the UK
#8: Religion in the Heart of the City