Teaching Religion in Public

Teaching Religion in Public (TRiP)

Teaching Religion in Public (TRiP) has a three-fold mission: to create opportunities for faculty and graduate students together to reflect on diverse experiences of teaching religion both within and outside the public university classroom; to create a distinctive sort of public among ourselves; and to reimagine teaching in public as a collaborative activity rather than a transmission of expertise.

Join the Center for Religion and the Human's email list (thehuman@indiana.edu) to receive more information.

Upcoming Meetings

There are no events at this time.

From the February 2024 Religious Studies Newsletter

Together with Sarah McElroy Mitchell, the new curator of Religious Collections at the Lilly Library, Constance Furey has secured an Instructional Development Grant from the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning for this semester’s Introduction to Christianity course. The grant supports a multi-step project that guides students to develop research questions of their own through hands-on exploration of medieval manuscripts, and to present their findings in the form of two different exhibit labels: one written with a university audience in mind, and the other written to appeal to middle-school visitors. Student visits to the Lilly began this week (together with field trips to the Eskenazi Art Museum) and students report being fascinated by what they’ve seen! 

Past Themes

Spring 2019 set the stage for subsequent work with a series of collaborative meetings between faculty and graduate students.

Our first gathering was jointly led by Josie Wenig, a masters student who had just returned from the Weaving Knowledge Workshop in Thailand, and Naiyi Hsu, a Ph.D. student from Taiwan who specializes in Confucian and Daoist texts. We read and discussed a piece on “world-weaving” and Japan’s Imperial Rescript. This pairing of seemingly unrelated topics prompted a wide ranging discussion about what teaching involves, where religion can be found, and how encountering religion outside the classroom might change the way we teach and learn.

These discussions continued in five subsequent TRiP workshops over the course of the semester:

John Walsh, Associate Professor of Information and Library Science at IU, presented “Spider-Man and Swinburne: Modeling Text Corpora in Pop Culture and Victorian Poetics.” Professor Walsh discussed ways to make (arguably religious) archives accessible and analyzable to public audiences through digital means.

Jolyon Thomas, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, presented “Making Morality: Moral Education in Japanese Public Schools, Postwar and Present.” Professor Thomas discussed the ways in which Japanese public education has sought to shape morality from the 1950s to present day.

Richard Nance, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at IU, presented “Difficulty.” Professor Nance asked: Teaching is hard - should we try to make things easier, either for ourselves or for our students? What is gained, and what is lost, when we paper over—or when we avoid papering over—the hard stuff? In this workshop, Professor Nance explored a series of exhibits that embody, point to, or create different forms of difficulty— forms that may have something to teach us about our own predispositions and temptations as teachers and students of religion.

Meng Zhang, graduate student in Religious Studies at IU, presented “Teaching Religion in Public: the Case of Yuelu Academy.” Meng discussed the Yuelu Academy, an institute at Hunan University, that hosts three departments: the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, the Department of History, and the Department of Archeology. Her discussion focused on the Academy’s understanding of the goal of education together with its self-identification and public engagement. She asked: Do we have a similar or different understanding of the goal of education? Can we do similar things when teaching religion in public?

Erin Parks, IU Religious Studies 2007 Graduate and local athletic strength and conditioning coach, presented “Teaching the Volatile to the Vulnerable: Athletics and Religion in Public.” Erin shared her experience of personally shifting from an “idea presenter” in the lives of children to her current role as an “in the difficulty” mentor to over 160 of our community’s children. She asked: When we give adolescents the responsibility of living in the tension of uncertainty, exposing the monumental task of defining one’s own framework for decision making, do our responsibilities change as educators? How do we explain volatility as a prolific, dynamic environment and not simply destruction of boundaries and knowledge? Should we?

Fall 2019:

Wednesday, September 18: On disciplines and non-knowing: a discussion with Joy Brennan (1:30-3pm in the Religious Studies Library, Sycamore 224). The semester's first Teaching Religion in Public (TRiP) event will feature a discussion with Joy Brennan (Kenyon College) concerning an article that she published earlier this year in the Immanent Frame. Hannah Garvey and Allison Darmody will open our discussion with brief responses. All those who plan to attend should read the relevant article in advance. It's a very provocative piece, and can be accessed here. 

Wednesdays, October 9 + 23 + November 13: Teaching Religion in Public Reading Group (9-10:30am, in the Religious Studies Library, Sycamore 224). This semester we continue our discussions of translatability and methodology when teaching religion. The October 9 meeting will focus on the "public(s)" at stake in "teaching religion in public." On October 23, we will host David Marno (University of California at Berkeley). The November 13 meeting will then take up the "other side of the coin," as it were, moving from issues regarding addressees to issues regarding addressors: how we position ourselves, and how we are positioned by those whom we address (and by those beyond our circle(s) of immediate addressees) in terms of race, class, gender, and the like, and how these matters matter, pedagogically speaking.

Congratulations to Professor Sonia Velázquez and Josie Wenig, for their winning proposal for Spring 2020’s Teaching Religion in Public!

“Practice,” as the winning proposal describes, “denotes both the work that we do, and the preparatory process by which we approach mastery. It can be both infuriatingly repetitive and comfortably habitual. It also unites religion, pedagogy, and thought in uncertain, sometimes uncomfortable, yet ultimately generative ways. PRACTICE lingers on the craft of teaching, thinking, and learning. Whether in research or teaching, we are always engaged in practice as much as thought. And yet, in spite of these connections, speaking about practice in the context of the study of religious studies remains a particularly fraught subject. We teach (about) practice to publics that may or may not be themselves practicing, in some religious or other sense. But further, do we practice what we teach? Our students often want to know. Rather than dismiss the question as meddlesome curiosity, through this TRiP series we look forward to investigating the care—attention and concern—that might lie behind the question.”

Specific sessions will focus on Politics of Practice, Practice as Pedagogy, Practices of Knowledge, and Autopraxis. Readings for the first session will include the introduction to Eli Meyerhoff’s Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World, and Professor Sullivan’s “Teaching religion: Refusing the Schempp myth of origins.”

Congratulations to Professor Laura Carlson Hasler, Professor Cooper Harriss, and graduate student Dale Spicer, for their winning proposal for Fall 2020's Teaching Religion in Public!

"Religion has a lot to say about failure," the winning proposal explains, "and so do scholars of religion." How do we teach about failure? Should we teach students to be suspicious toward narratives of failure and civilizational decline? What kind of power is exercised when we name something a failure?

Specific sessions will focus on Failure as a Pedagogical Strategy, Risk and Vulnerability in Pedagogical Performance, and Failing in Public. Readings for the first session will include Joshua R. Eyler, "Failure," in How Humans Learn.

This Scripture series of Spring 2021 explores the pedagogical stakes of canonization and reverence. How do we teach texts deemed uniquely authoritative without being constrained by questions of authority or power dynamics? What can be learned by shifting attention from specific scriptures to the category itself?

Drawing from Asian as well as Jewish and Christian scriptures, we explore a series of pedagogical case studies in relation to Vincent Wimbush’s arresting questions: What is the work ‘humans’ make ‘scriptures’ do? And what, in turn, does scripturalization do to humans?

We inaugurate the series with a conversation about an introductory text by Wimbush, a scholar of comparative scripturalization. The second session considers pedagogical challenges posed by the story of Cook Ding, in the Zhuangzi. As teachers of sacred texts, how do we religious scholars guide students to appreciate the transformative effects of these texts without leading students to think that we are somehow “converting” or “indoctrinating” them?

The third session complements the second by focusing on an example of scripture explicitly presented as an agent of indoctrination, using selections from a Christian text produced in late Ming China (16th-17th c.). “The Gospel for the Ordinary Reader” is not scripture that invites reflective, prayerful, or meditative reading, but instead a dogmatic summary, designed to identify and curtail deviant readings. What work is this catechism doing? What relationship does it have to the work of scripture?

Speakers for the fourth and possibly fifth sessions are likely to include a teacher of Bible at a Jewish high school, and a Chinese scholar of Confucianism.

Spring 2022 with graduate student facilitator Amber Lowe and faculty facilitator Stephen Selka.

Is Religious Studies equipped to address what it means to move beyond the category human? How do the methods of Religious Studies allow us to imagine life beyond earth? Do we as scholars attend to the fact that humanity evolves—in all senses—and how that evolution impacts religion? Using Afrofuturism and speculative thought as the methodologies, these sessions invite us to redress the role of religion—informed by Enlightenment religious thought—in creating “normative” figurations of the human. These sessions consider past exclusions of Black and Trans persons—for example—from the human, future inclusions of different life forms and ways of being into the human, the decentering and destabilization of the human, and the implications of that decentering and destabilization for Religious Studies. Ultimately these sessions will challenge speculative thought that often writes religion out of the future. They will also invite discussions of how we might talk about ways of thinking about the human in the classes we teach, whether they are focused on contemporary traditions or the ancient world, as in all these cases we see exclusions and inclusions, and speculations about the future of “humanity,” as ideas about what religion will look like in the future.


The Spring 2023 Teaching Religion in Public series will be organized around the pedagogical uses of THiNGS, particularly objects housed in museums, archives, and special collections, with special attention to when and how these objects are understood to have—or lack—religious significance. Our series begins on with a shared reading from Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body, by Jean-Luc Nancy, which interprets the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, often translated, “do not touch me!” as a parable about the relationship between things in themselves and how they are represented.

Each of the three subsequent sessions will focus on questions fundamental to our pedagogical practices: which objects are categorized as accessible to public touch, and which are kept out of reach? How do we handle objects that are offensive or otherwise dangerous? How are objects classified and what do those classifications reveal about our values and ideas of materiality and representation?

The first session will take place at our Center for the Religion and the Human, but all others will provide us with different contexts for touching and thinking about objects. We will sketch some items from the teaching collection at the Indiana University Museum of Archeology and Anthropology; interact with objects associated with sex and other provocations at the Kinsey Institute; and learn how the category of the fetish inflects engagement with religious objects by engaging with an African artifact currently housed at the Sydney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Our goal is to experience for ourselves the active learning we aim to foster with our students with the help of some of IUB’s extraordinary resources. We hope the hands-on experiences in this TRiP series will challenge, provoke, and enlighten you. Spontaneous discoveries are encouraged!

Hope to see you all there!

Blake Garland-Tirado, graduate student coordinator
Constance Furey, faculty coordinator