Friday, April 04, 2008

Teaching about Islam in America

I have been in the first week now teaching Islam in Southeast Asia and Reading the Qur'an, both being upper-division undergraduate courses with few graduate students, each having about 30 students enrolled. I love education and I find it my world. I designed the syllaby in ways that are hope to be effective and interesting. I asked the students in the first meeting to look at the syllabus and to give them a sense of what to expect. One among other things I emphasized was this course using an academic approach to Islam, as opposed to a normative/theological approach to it; Students are encouraged to ask any questions or make comments that they may have during the lectures and discussions. There are no stupid questions, nor foolish comments. I would appreciate their participations in a variety of ways. Teaching about Islam, rather than teaching Islam, or indoctrinations about certain views or religious belief. The goal is comprehension, and the method is critical.

The first day I had some questions about why I am interested in religion. I explain that religion is complex and not monolithic and it can be viewed and analyzed from various perspectives. These complexity and multiplicity would make religion a never ending subject of inquiry. Religious studies, and Islamic studies included, would develop in ways that are unexpected because of new findings. And so on...

I had some students identifying them as "Muslim", even though I didn't ask any to say about their religion in our introduction. One of them say she was not affiliated with particular religion, but is interested to know religion as a personal and spiritual phenomenon. The students vary in terms of their majors (math, bio, poli science, anthro, religious studies, psychology, business). They talk about their reasons why they are interested in the course.

To be continued...

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