January 22 2018

by David B. Howell, Ferrum College

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan

Study abroad experiences for students can range from the short-term educational travel with an academic focus to semester- or year-long immersion experiences that provide students with an opportunity for cultural integration. The student learning outcomes for the variety of courses along the continuum will differ significantly. But in each case, study abroad courses provide a context and opportunity for faculty to address in a powerful way some intangible learning outcomes that exist in religious studies courses. Such transformative learning experiences, however, may not result without careful course design by faculty who seek to have students engage different cultures in deep and complex ways. Without purposeful design, the study abroad may be satisfying to students, but become little more than a glorified vacation. In this brief essay, I want to suggest some theoretical frameworks that I have used to design short-term study abroad courses.

by Dorina Miller Parmenter, Spalding University

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan


Finding the time and the financial resources for study abroad is a challenge for most students at my university, where many of them are first-generation learners and have work and/or family commitments. New adventure and global awareness may seem like unaffordable and impractical luxuries to them, and therefore they are not sufficient points of appeal for recruiting participants for my school’s only study abroad opportunity (in Ireland). Students must be able to justify the additional expense and time commitment by taking classes within the study abroad program that they need to graduate, whether those are core requirements or major courses.

by Alyssa Beall, West Virginia University

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan

Teaching Strategy

In July of 2013, I found myself on a plane to Japan with nine very excited students. I say “found myself” because I remember very little of getting to the airport. I had flown in from Rome the night before, after stepping in as a last-minute chaperone for a study abroad to Italy. After four hours of sleep I was back on a plane. The preparation time I had scheduled immediately before the trip hadn’t happened, and any last-minute planning with my colleague (who is also my husband) was promptly undermined by my falling into a very deep sleep.

by Alex Snow, West Virginia University

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan

Introduction: “Fingers Pointing at Castles”

In June of 2013, I helped lead a group of undergraduate students from West Virginia University on a three-week study abroad trip to Japan. As part of my job responsibilities within the Program for Religious Studies, it would be the first time I had been in charge of coordinating such an excursion, having had the opportunity to visit parts of Israel the previous summer on a colleague’s trip so as to “get the hang” of things and “learn the ropes” of short-term study abroad. I had been teaching part-time, and now full-time, for over fifteen years but never outside of the classroom. Then, with the help and support of my wife and disciplinary colleague, I found myself about to begin a three-week adventure in travel, advice, and daily student mentorship; and by association, an almost continuous, usually spontaneous, strategic experiment in on-site pedagogical techniques.

by John J. O’Keefe, Creighton University

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan

Several years ago, I, with two of my colleagues here at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, created a program called The Backpack Journalism Project. A collaboration between the Department of Theology and the Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing, this program uses the tool of documentary filmmaking to educate undergraduate students about the challenges facing people in the developing world and marginalized societies. To date, our project has produced four short documentary films, one set in the Dominican Republic, two set in Uganda, and one set in Bethel, Alaska.

In our first film, Esperanza, we profiled the work of Pedro Pena, a Catholic deacon who works in the heart of the worst slum in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The slum is built around and on top of a city dump. Pena labors to improve the health and education of local residents. 

Adarkar, Aditya and David Lee Keiser. 2007. “The Buddha in the Classroom: Toward a Critical Spiritual Pedagogy.” Journal of Transformative Education 5 (3): 246–261.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. 2007. College Learning for the New Global Century: A Report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Barbour, John. 2015. “’Oh Events’ for the Professor: Studies and Stories of Religious Studies Abroad.” Teaching Theology and Religion 18 (1): 88–96.

Baxter-Magolda, Marcia. 1992. Knowing and Reasoning in College: Gender Related Patterns in Students’ Intellectual Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Capps, W. H. 1995. Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion

An image of one of Rockwell Kent's 1930 illustrations of Moby Dick. Depicts the whale rising high out of the water, with large arc of water from the whale's blowhole.

As I sit this Sunday morning drinking my routine cup of hot coffee, my head keeps entertaining one question, “Why can’t I have it all?” Mind you, I have book deadlines, project deadlines, and other writing deadlines…but this question persists, like old Ahab’s obsession with his white whale.

Oftentimes when I travel to meetings and conferences, people just assume I am a young (okay…well…middle-aged), single scholar who is at some institution with no social life or family interfering with my way of working in this competitive academic world.

Once other scholars realize I am married with children, most of them are surprised. Once they realize I have three children, they become shocked. It is not because they think a woman like me can’t have three children, but they muse, “How can a scholar have three children?”

Andrew Quintman speaks with Kristian Petersen about his award-winning book "The Yogin and the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet's Great Saint Milarepa."

by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Perkins School of Theology

Plate XXX, Byzantine No. 3, of Owen Jones's "The Grammar of Ornament" (1868)

The earth will never again be seen as flat. In spite of sixteenth century intellectuals who argued that the earth was level, others like Copernicus and Ferdinand Magellan convinced us otherwise. The earth is anything but one dimensional.

With the lens of intersectionality, concepts of the human being and relationality have lost any residue of flatness or one dimensionality in their constructions. The contributing scholars for this Spotlight on Theological Education develop the interlacing realities and particularities that comprise the reality of human being as well as the notions of class, race, gender, linguistic identity, ableism, sexuality, and culture. The following essays offer a theological telescope by which to see not one world, but the constellation of worlds within human beings created by crisscrossing relationships.