March 28 2020

Finding a Way into Empathy through Story Exercises in a Religious Studies Classroom

Mary E. Hess, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

Empathy by John Edward Marin

I am thoroughly aware, as I sit down to write this piece, of the vastly differing settings in which members of the AAR teach and learn. Digital media scholars have noted that we are living in a time of context collapse, yet as religion scholars, we know that context matters a great deal.1 Contexts have a huge impact on the ways in which learning unfolds, as well as any content we seek to teach. This essay is, then, a situated piece that I offer from my specific setting. I hope that it will prove evocative for you, igniting your interest in the ways in which story exercises can prove useful in a religious studies classroom. I hope readers will share both how these ideas resonate with, and how they contest, their own practices.

I write as a Roman Catholic scholar of religious education who has served on the faculty of an ELCA Lutheran seminary in Minnesota for nearly twenty years. I am a white cisgender female, married to a white cisgender male, the parent of two adult sons, and thoroughly immersed in all sorts of intersectional privilege. Additionally, I have been a media educator since high school, and I have continued to seek—through my undergraduate degree in American studies, my master’s in theological studies, and ultimately my doctoral program in religion and education—ways to engage digital media that are creative, participatory, and grounded in relevant scholarship. I am keenly aware of how little value the academy often places on such work within tenure and promotion decisions, and that is yet another arena in which I’ve tried to encourage engagement with digital storytelling.

I share these elements not only to situate and circumscribe what I say here, but also to note that it is precisely because so many of my teachers over the years have sought to deepen and develop my empathy that I have even agreed to take on the writing of this essay. Further, I would note that there has been such an explosion in neuroscience and neuropsychology, that new insights offer us additional pragmatic ways into this work—about which I’ll have more to say in a moment.

Back in 2008, William Safire wrote this about empathy in the New York Times:

If you think empathy is the synonym of sympathy, I’m sorry for your confusion. Back to the Greeks: pathos is “emotion.” Sympathy feels pity for another person’s troubles, secondarily a sense of allegiance; empathy identifies with whatever is going on in another’s mind or in a work of art—visual, dramatic, musical—whether merry or morose, hanging loose or uptight. The Greek prefix sym means “together with, alongside”; the verbal prefix em goes deeper, meaning “within, inside.” When you’re sympathetic, your arm goes around the shoulders of others; when you’re empathetic, your mind lines up with what’s going on inside their heads. Big difference. . .2

When you develop empathy with someone or something, you are reaching beyond your own experience, you are seeking to “feel with” and to step into compassion (com-passio “suffer- with”). Such a standpoint is not about pity or sorrow for another’s experience, and can often require an acknowledgement that we do not know, perhaps can never know, what the other is experiencing, yet we can still seek to be present, to listen carefully, and to receive without judgement. In a time of rampant polarization and ideological pressure to make and fear “others,” empathy is a key capacity we need to develop. This form of listening, this kind of experiential attention, is a vital element of transformative learning in religious studies.3

But how can we do this? Educators are keen to point out that human beings are storytellers: we tell stories to make sense of ourselves, to make sense of the world around us, and to build shared realities. The challenge right now is that we are immersed in vast oceans of stories, and increasingly our efforts to make sense of them cluster around the dynamics of authenticity and agency.4 In the past a story might have had authority because it came to us from an authoritative figure—a teacher, a religious leader, and so on—but today in the midst of the vast ocean of digital information, a story often has power and credibility only to the extent that we deem it authentic. Further, we may find ourselves giving it only as much attention as is required to act upon it in some way. Thus, authority develops both via elements of authenticity and via elements of agency.5

Already you can see that developing empathy through story requires the ability to hear and speak one’s own story in more complex terms, as well as the capacity to engage other stories—particularly those which might challenge, confront, or even counter our personal stories. Teachers can support this process if we are clear about what it means to expand students’ capacities in the midst of context collapse. We need to nurture their abilities to see and engage complexity, alongside supporting their creative communication skills.

Digital social media function via algorithms that more and more put in front of us stories which confirm and support our existing biases, causing us to develop what Merlyna Lim has labelled “algorithmic enclaves,” which are “formed whenever a group of individuals, aided by their constant interactions with algorithms, attempt to create a (perceived) shared identity online for sharing with each other, defending their beliefs and protecting their resources from both real and perceived threats.”6

Further, because the economic engine which drives social media is attention – that is, the longer you “pay” attention to a given site, the more the ads will pay the advertiser – and because human attention has evolved over eons to focus on threat assessment, these algorithms serve up ever more intense stories which provoke our fear and our anger, rather than evoking calm, peaceful presence, awe, and so on. Indeed, neurological studies have demonstrated that one of the most effective ways to counter the “fight, flight, or freeze” pattern that is our primitive response to threat is to evoke wonder.7 Clearly, it is not in the economic best interests of advertisers to ease our fear or dampen our anger by engaging our wonder. Instead, we need to grow empathy by modeling a different set of responses, what Anita Farber-Robertson has called specific social virtues:

  • Helpfully support people (this means help individuals to become aware of the reasoning processes; help them become aware of gaps and inconsistencies)
  • Respect people (this means human beings are capable of and interested in learning)
  • Be strong (this means behavior reflects a high capacity for advocacy coupled with a high capacity for inquiry and vulnerability without feeling threatened)
  • Maintain integrity (this means advocate and act on your point of view in such a way as to encourage confrontation and inquiry into it)8

Hearing Our Own Stories with Complexity

The learning challenge here is two-fold: how to help our students to slow down enough to hear their own stories, and then how to provoke them to curiosity about other stories while in a state of wonder rather than fear. There are myriad ways to do this, and scholars of education such as Parker Palmer, Stephen Brookfield and Alison James, and Cathy Davidson have written extensively exploring these dynamics.9 Here I simply want to lift up an exercise that I’ve found particularly relevant and powerful in the study of religion (either from an insider’s view, through theology, or from a more distanced view in religious studies), and that is digital storytelling.

I want to emphasize that this is a very specific process which emerged first in community theater as an improvisational form of story creation, and was then infused with digital tools. StoryCenter (previously the Center for Digital Storytelling) developed what Sonja Vivienne concisely defines as “a workshop-based participatory media practice focused on self-representation.”10 This mode of learning asks, first, that participants tell their own story in the context of several different kinds of story exercises aimed at helping participants to attend carefully to the meaning which emerges, and then helps participants to embed those stories in digital media which can be widely shared. Here are two examples of the narrative exercises that I have used with my own classes.

In general, I have used these as opening exercises, early in a course, to build shared context and to assess student readiness for more complexity. In a world permeated by digital media we endure many competing and often conflicting claims on our attention. Students have little experience with the kind of careful listening which invites awareness of, let alone engagement with, complexity. If we give our students a simple set of “rules” with which to listen to each other, they can begin to develop the neurological “muscle memory” necessary for engaging complexity and leaning into empathy.

I know that faculty can feel anxious at the thought of devoting class time to such exercises, worrying that doing so detracts from what may already feel like limited space for specific content, but in my experience these kinds of exercises actually lay the groundwork for accomplishing more with various kinds of content, because they offer an enjoyable way for teachers to assess where students are, and give students an enjoyable invitation to bring their voices into the classroom.

Basic Four-Role Story Circle

Begin by placing people into groups of four. Doing so is obviously logistically easier if you have a small class, but even a very large class can do this exercise if you have sufficient room for people to spread out and have enough space in which to listen to each other.

Explain that each group will do four rounds of storytelling, in each round one person is invited to tell a story with a time limit (usually three minutes), and then the other three participants listen to that story in a specific way. You might, for example, invite people tell a story such as:

  • A moment in which you questioned what religion is
  • A moment in which you experienced a glimpse of transcendence (or the divine)
  • A moment in which you encountered a different faith and wondered about it

After the storyteller finishes, the other three people reflect on what they heard from their role as a specific listener:

  • Factual Listener – this person listens for the facts or actions of the story
  • Feelings Listener – this person listens for the feelings expressed or embodied in the story
  • Values Listener – this person listens for the values embedded in the story

Once a round has concluded, the roles rotate one person to the next, and the process is repeated. If you offer people three minutes to tell a story, and then roughly ten minutes for the other three people to share what they heard, you can complete all four rounds in approximately an hour.

Story Titling Exercise

This exercise does not require a specific number of people per group, although three to five people is optimum.

Here one person tells a brief story while the other members of the group listen carefully. Prompts similar to the ones above are useful. Once the storyteller is finished, they turn their back to the other circle participants and listen as the circle participants offer potential titles for the story. After all possible titles are suggested the storyteller turns back around and chooses one, explaining why it appeals to them. If none of the titles “work” for them, the storyteller can offer a different title.

The process of turning away from the other group members invites the storyteller to focus on what they are hearing, rather than the person who is sharing the title. It also embodies a form of distancing oneself and then turning back into the group. As noted earlier, empathy requires moving beyond mere “feeling with” to a deeper kind of listening and engagement.

Neuropsychologists have pointed out that how we process facial information differs from how we process other forms of visual information, because facial information is so crucial to communication.11 Turning away as we listen, so that we are not looking directly at the faces of people offering titles, perhaps paradoxically helps us to listen more carefully to what we are hearing, rather than processing what we see. Of course, we then must turn back directly. It is this rhythm of shifting our focus back and forth that is also important as we move from our own stories to other people’s stories.

Here again it helps to suggest that stories be limited to no more than three minutes, and to make sure that there is a time limit on the discussion of titles. If you’re doing this exercise with lots of small groups, then you can also collect the set of titles from each group as a “table of contents” and offer them to the wider group to ignite curiosity about the stories.

Each of these exercises offers a basic introduction to listening carefully. Because the story circles are shaped with an explicit set of ground rules, a space is created in which a story can be “held” rather than having the storyteller “be held” by it. This practice in careful listening is generally experienced as both powerful and engaging by participants and can be useful in many parts of a class, although I would suggest that it is a good exercise for early in a semester or workshop, as it helps to create an engaged and productive atmosphere.

In digital storytelling, this first set of exercises tills the ground for the next steps in which the student/participant will hone in on a kernel of the story with which they want to work further. Then the digital aspect becomes more present, as students take their story, audio record it, and then add images, music, and in some cases video excerpts from other productions, into a short (generally three minutes long) digital story which can then be uploaded to Vimeo or some other cloud storage platform to be shared.

In the research literature on digital storytelling as a learning modality, scholars describe experiences of empowerment, connection, even transcendence. Caleb Nathaniel Paull, for instance, investigated the experiences of participants in a digital storytelling workshop in the context of his doctoral program in adult education. Among other observations, he noted that:

In the process of creating their digital stories, both Shannon and Arne came to feel validated and empowered both as the subjects they portrayed through story and as the “authors” of story. In reflecting on experiences they deemed important, then having to make conscious choices about how to represent these experiences, what to include and what to leave out, the digital storytellers were expressing experience to themselves in particular ways, objectifying their stories and shaping them around certain perspectives. The conscious construction of a point of view in the digital stories involved interpreting and repurposing the past from a present context.12

Roger McQuistion engaged in a participatory action project for his doctor of ministry degree that utilized a confirmation program in a Lutheran church as its foundation. He writes that:

As our students and parents have demonstrated, digital technology has something to teach us. It can make the study of the Bible and our traditions fun and entertaining, deeply immersive and engaging, but it can do much more. It can enable us to return to a kind of secondary orality that has at its core an experiential component that the written word yearns to teach us. The Word oftentimes lies captive, inert and lifeless on the written page. Yet as the story is creatively told and embodied, the Word can break free of its paper prison and breathe again. Digital technology can help the Word, the teller and the hearer, interact on a deeper level. An ancient way of experiencing the text can be recovered, if not completely, then in part. The recovery is well worth the effort and risk.13

Lynn Schofield Clark and Jill Dierberg noted that the youth with whom they worked in digital story projects found a venue for sharing their understanding of their faith in a way that their environment had previously suppressed:

Because of its accessibility and ease of use, digital storytelling has come to be of interest among religious groups, particularly among communities that wish to counter misinformation or stereotypes that might lead others to make false assumptions about who they are or what they stand for. Participating in such processes of story creation can help members of misunderstood communities to recognize their agency and claim their right to tell their own story, first within the story circle and later, advocates hope, within broader circles of influence.14

I quote these scholars at length because I want to emphasize the ways in which taking a story and focusing sustained attention on it through the development of a digital version of that story—a version which is then deliberately made available in wider contexts—creates an experiential process in which participants work at intentionally crafting context for their own story, and then in sharing it, learn something of the challenges involved in moving across contextual boundaries.

But why is the experience of this process so engaging? I think it’s possible that somewhere in the middle of the context collapse we live within, creating and publishing a digital story helps persons to develop a more robust array of mirror neurons, the underlying neurological structures at the heart of building empathy. There appears to be a resonance, an alignment, between the experiences media educators and digital storytellers speak of in their work, with the kinds of practices that therapists investigating the function of mirror neurons describe.15 Mirror neurons are a particular element in our brains that appear to be deeply implicated in the process of empathy development. Here is Daniel Stern’s description of mirror neurons:

Mirror neurons sit adjacent to motor neurons. They fire in an observer who is doing nothing but watching another person behave (e.g., reaching for a glass). And the pattern of firing in the observer mimics the pattern that the observer would use if he were reaching for that glass, himself. In brief, the visual information received when watching another act gets mapped on to the equivalent motor representation in our own brain by the activity of these mirror neurons. It permits us to directly participate in another’s actions, without having to imitate them. This “participation” in another’s mental life creates a sense of feeling/sharing with/understanding them, and in particular their intentions and feelings.16

I think it is possible that the mechanisms being explored in the research on mirror neurons and the experiences being reported within digital storytelling may be similar if not the same phenomena viewed through different lenses. I am not a neuropsychologist, and sometimes that literature feels as opaque to me as the literature on theology no doubt feels to religious studies scholars. At the same time, however, I am the parent of a child who is not typical in neurological terms, and over the years, I have found that the ways in which our medical professionals have helped me to parent are remarkably similar to the ways in which education scholars have invited me to think about supporting learning complexity.

One example that strikes me afresh every year has to do with what I’ve learned about implicit biases. Neuropsychologists have helped us to see how we bring unconscious and/or subconscious biases to our experiences. Until I was invited to see how my unconscious assumptions about parenting were preventing me from really seeing and hearing my child, I was caught up in very painful interpretations of his behavior which short-circuited any attempts on my part to support his development. I have experienced something that feels very resonant with that experience in my classrooms around race. Growing up as a white person in a society dominated by white supremacy and white nationalism here in the United States, I absorbed racism so deeply that my biases often short-circuit my ability to be present to my students—particularly those who have been minoritized in this country—in ways that support their growth and learning. This is yet another place in which I believe the distinctions between sympathy and empathy are very pertinent. I cannot “feel with” my students of color—and my not neurotypical child—because I will never inhabit their spaces. But I can learn to listen deeply, respond with humility, and grow my capacity to inhabit complexity. I can deepen my empathy—both in recognizing my own limits, and in leaning into embracing with delight the differences each of us brings to our relationships.

In my experience, helping students to uncover and express their own stories about religion and religious experience is only an initial starting point in building an opportunity to engage and learn other religious stories. If we cannot help students claim their own religious stories (or for that matter, the lack of one, which is increasingly the case), it is virtually impossible to help them engage another that is quite outside their default contexts.

Thus far, I have described ways in which storytelling exercises can support deepening of students’ awareness of the complexity of their own stories. The second half of this process has to do with supporting their engagement with stories from quite different traditions, stories which in effect provoke cognitive dissonance for them.

Hearing Each Others’ Stories, and the Stories of Communities through Time

Religious traditions are a vast repository of stories. But the challenge of determining which stories are authentic, and in what ways they might have authority, is a critical learning challenge. Helping our students to discern the distinctions between what their familiar personal experiences deem as authentic, and what a very different religious experience would claim, requires helping them first to perceive and “hold” their experiences, rather than “being held” by them. That is, they need to find ways to have enough distance from their immediate experience to see it with clarity and empathy, and then they need the scaffolding which can help them to take that experience and draw from it a capacity to encounter a very different experience with a similar degree of openness and curiosity.

Here is where the element of agency becomes particularly relevant. We need to help our students experience the process of cognitive dissonance, of a conflict between what they think they know and what we want them to explore and experience in new ways. We also need them to experience cognitive dissonance as an invitation to wonder, rather than as a prompt for fear. Giving them agency in a creative process, inviting them into an exercise which they have considerable choice in terms of which of their own stories to tell, and how to tell them, offers robust opportunities for doing so.

Far too many of our students have been immersed in a set of dominant or stock stories17 which invite them to encounter difference either as something to fear or perhaps as something simply to accept—but not as in any way relevant to them; a form of relativist “you believe this, I believe that, and both are fine,” response. Helping our students learn how to speak from their own experiences with authenticity and authority, and then recognize that doing so frees them to encounter difference in such a way that they are vulnerable to new ideas, is a key element of what transformative learning entails. It is precisely what we intend when we seek to support them in developing greater empathy.

There are vast repositories of digital media which document and explore religious experiences in myriad ways (the Pluralism Project is one such source18). We can use these materials in supporting students to engage traditions quite different from their own by igniting their curiosity about such a tradition, and then curating appropriate materials with which they can engage in learning.

I mentioned earlier in this essay that we need to attend to authenticity, authority, and agency. Here I would add a second trio of actions—ignite, curate, and practice. The practice we need to give our students as we seek to develop their empathy is practice in being present in nonjudgmental ways to their own discomfort when engaging difference.

More and more of us in the higher education setting are teaching in spaces that are thoroughly permeated by digital media. This is a double-edged reality—it is both full of opportunities to build shared context, to invite wonder, to support transformative learning—and it is all too easy to ignore our students’ needs and simply throw material at them that is largely decontextualized (other than within the rather arcane languages of scholarship). I fear that we then tend to blame students themselves when they don’t transform their patterns. We need to step outside of our own comfort zones, let go of the need to “cover” a field, and instead focus on helping our students to “discover” and “recover” religious practices and religious meaning-making in specific contexts. This work is at the center of confronting context collapse, and once it is learned within religious studies, it is transferrable to other content areas.

The key is to focus on the enduring understandings you seek to support.19 In my classrooms, I am interested in supporting an enduring ability to ask good questions, to honor and respect difference, and to have thoughtful, critically responsible research habits. I use the specific content of a given course to create assignments that give students practice in these elements.

Using a digital storytelling process in its fullness is not a one-session process. Linda Buturian’s significant and profound book The Changing Story: Digital Stories that Participate in Transforming Teaching and Learning explores how faculty in higher education can offer that kind of scaffolding throughout an entire semester.20 Her book offers substantial support for this kind of teaching/learning design, including multiple examples of specific assignments, as well as pieces created by students across many different semesters. In my setting, I have used tools such as Animoto and MoodleCloud (both of which have free educator accounts), SoundCloud, and indeed many of the same platforms and tools with which students are already familiar. You can see some of the assignments my students have made, in the specific contexts in which I teach, at my website: http://meh.religioused.org/web/studentprojects/.

Studying one’s own religion (through critical philosophical and theological engagement) and studying someone else’s religion (through rigorous religious studies frameworks) offers rich opportunities to learn precisely how to inhabit this kind of perspective-taking standpoint. The skills learned in that process deepen empathy, and invite precisely the kind of nuanced and thoughtful engagement with difference that are so necessary in the worlds we inhabit today. 


1 Michael Wesch, “Context Collapse,” Digital Ethnography, July 31, 2008, available via Internet Archive WayBack Machine, https://web.archive.org/web/20191022102902/http://mediatedcultures.net/youtube/context-collapse/.

Mary E. Hess, “Storying Faith: The Promises and Contradictions of New Media in Catholic Religious Education,” in Global Perspectives on Catholic Religious Education in Schools, ed. Michael T. Buchanan and Adrian-Mario Gellel (New York: Springer, 2015).

Mary E. Hess, “Using Digital Media and Storytelling to Unearth Racism and Galvanize Action,” in Teaching Race: How to Help Students Unmask and Challenge Racism, ed. Stephen D. Brookfield (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2018).

2 William Safire, “Nuance,” New York Times Magazine, September 5, 2008, MM24. Available online at https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/magazine/07wwln-safire-t.html?searchResultPosition=37.

3 Mary E. Hess, “Teaching and Learning Comparative Theology with Millennial Students,” in Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom, ed. Mara Brecht and Reid B. Locklin (New York: Routledge, 2016): 50–60.

4 Mary E. Hess, “Responding to the Challenges of Religious Storying in a Digital Age: Building New Opportunities through Feautor.org,” in Erzählen - Reflexionen im Zeitalter der Digitalisierung / Storytelling – Reflections in the Age of Digitalization, eds. Yvonne Gächter et al. (Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2008): 112–126.

5 Mary E. Hess, 2017. “Exploring the Epistemological Challenges Underlying Civic Engagement by Religious Communities,” The Good Society Special Issue: On Reintegrating Facts, Values, Strategies 26 nos. 2-3 (2017): 305–322.

6 Merlyna Lim, “Beyond Fake News: Social Media and Market-driven Political Campaigns,” The Conversation, September 5, 2017, retrieved from http://theconversation.com/beyond-fake-news-social-media-and-market-driven-political-campaigns-78346. This piece is an edited excerpt from Merlyna Lim, “Freedom to Hate: Social Media, Algorithmic Enclaves, and the Rise of Tribal Nationalism in Indonesia,” Critical Asian Studies 49, no. 3 (2017): 411-427.

7 Kate Murphy, “Outsmarting our Primitive Responses to Fear,” The New York Times, October 26, 2017, last accessed January 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/well/live/fear-anxiety-therapy.html.

Harvard Health Publishing, “Understanding the Stress Response,” 2018, last accessed on January 3, 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response.

8 Anita Farber-Robertson, Learning while Leading: Increasing Your Effectiveness in Ministry (The Alban Institute, 2000), 27.

9 See Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998).

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Alison James and Stephen D. Brookfield, Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014).

Cathy N. Davidson, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (New York: Viking, 2011).

10 Sonja Vivienne, Digital Identity and Everyday Activism: Sharing Private Stories with Networked Publics (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 1.

https://www.storycenter.org/

11 Joel Z. Leibo et al., “Why the Brain Separates Face Recognition from Object Recognition,” Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 24, NIPS Proceedings (2011), https://papers.nips.cc/paper/4318-why-the-brain-separates-face-recognition-from-object-recognition.

12 Paull, Caleb Nathaniel Paull, “Self-perceptions and Social Connections: Empowerment through Digital Storytelling in Adult Education” (EdD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2002), 217.

13 Roger McQuistion, “Digital Disciples: Reconceptualizing Adolescent Confirmation Instruction by Combining Biblical Storytelling and Digital Media” (DMin thesis, United Theological School, Dayton, Ohio, 2007), 99–100.

14 Lynn Schofield Clark and Jill Dierberg, “Digital Storytelling and Collective Religious Identity in a Moderate to Progressive Youth Group,” in Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practices in New Media Worlds, ed. Heidi A. Campbell (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 150.

15 Stein Bråten, ed., On Being Moved: From Mirror Neurons to Empathy (Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2007).

Alan K. Davis, “Co-authoring Identity: Digital Storytelling in an Urban Middle School,” Then (an online journal). Retrieved from http://sim.soe.umich.edu/then/index.php/then/article/view/32/31 on January 3, 2020.

Davis, Alan K. (2004). “Co-authoring Identity: Digital Storytelling in an Urban Middle School,” THEN: Technology, Humanities, Education, & Narrative 1 (2004). Made available by the author at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288938876_Co-authoring_identity_Digital_storytelling_in_an_urban_middle_school.

16 Daniel N. Stern, 2007. “Applying Developmental and Neuroscience Findings on Other-centered Participation to the Process of Change in Psychotherapy,” in Bråten, On Being Moved, 37.

17 Lee Anne Bell et al., The Storytelling Curriculum Project: Learning about Race and Racism through Storytelling and the Arts (New York: Storytelling Project, Barnard College, 2008), 8–9. Last accessed January 3, 2020, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/barnard/education/stp/stp_curriculum.pdf.

18http://pluralism.org

19 Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design (Alexandria, VA: ASCD Publishing, 2003).

20 Linda Buturian, The Changing Story: Digital Stories that Participate in Transforming Teaching and Learning (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2016). Available open access at https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/267.


Mary E. HessMary E. Hess is professor of educational leadership at Luther Seminary, where she has taught since 2000. During the 2016–17 academic year, she held the Patrick and Barbara Keenan Visiting Chair in Religious Education at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. Hess publishes regularly in academic journals and is a past president of the Religious Education Association. Her most recent writing includes a chapter in Teaching Race: How to Help Students Unmask and Challenge Racism (edited by Stephen Brookfield, Jossey-Bass, 2018) and a chapter in Global Perspectives on Catholic Religious Education in Schools, Volume II (edited by Michael T. Buchanan and Adrian-Mario Gellel, Springer, 2019). You can access her writing via her website (meh.religioused.org), and she also curates the website storyingfaith.org.