Twenty-Seven Educators Attend Third Annual Religious Literacy Summer Institute

September 30, 2019
Jenny Nam

Twenty-seven educators who work in middle schools, high schools, and community colleges across the United States joined RLP staff and fellows on campus from July 29-August 2 for the third annual Religious Literacy Summer Institute for Educators.

During the week-long training, educators were introduced to the RLP’s methodology, and received coaching from their peers and RLP staff on how to incorporate this methodology into their curricula. The program is designed to help educators recognize complex religious influences, and engage in the project of education for engaged and informed democratic citizenship.

Three educators, Jenny Nam, Matt Johnson, and Tahmina Matubbar share their reflections and ideas for the program below.

Educator Profile: Jenny Nam

Jenny Nam is a sixth grade teacher at Lincoln School in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Jenny NamWhat did you find most useful, thought provoking, or exciting about the institute? 

The institute gave me the tools to address this perennially "thorny" issue of how to talk about religion in public schools, which I thought was something that could never really be done with my "regular curriculum." The Galtung approach was the most useful and thought-provoking because "violence & peace" typology is embedded in every type of religion, culture -- and literature! No matter what story or topic we're reading or studying about, Galtung's typology can be introduced and organically lead to talking about different religious ideas. 

Is there a particular moment or experience from the institute that stands out to you? 

I was blown away by the diversity of the fellow teachers at the institute. Truthfully, never have I had a heart-to-heart talk with a teacher from Tennessee -- it wasn't that I'm from a "blue state" and he was from a "red state," but that we were able to relate and connect on our common goal of helping our students envision a "better world" for all. That sounds so corny, but it's true! 

What plans do you have to implement frameworks or resources from the RLP during the coming academic year? 

I am already implementing Galtung's typology, with help from Lauren Kerby et al. [the RLP education staff] and their generous offer to help individually and with regular online "Office Hours"! My 6th graders read a story about a poor family adopting a dog (vs. "kill" shelter) and talked about who the "hero" of the story is and what types of violence/peace are represented in the story. And they will write a personal essay or a creative writing piece (and present to the class) about a time they were a "hero" for reducing violence and creating more peace. It's work in progress but it's a powerful moment when 11-year-olds "see" for the first time that violence isn't just guns and war!

Educator Profile: Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson is Program Coordinator of the Bible History Elective Program for the Hamilton County Public Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Matt JohnsonWhat did you find most useful, thought provoking, or exciting about the institute? 

The conversations that centered around how to teach religious studies using a non-devotional approach were helpful in strengthening my understanding of how to guide this work from the most constitutionally appropriate perspective possible. Rich dialogues emerged as we wrestled with, not only the philosophical rootedness for why this approach matters, but also with the practicality of constructing meaningful learning experiences that promote authentic appreciation for diverse thinking in the classroom.

Is there a particular moment or experience from the institute that stands out to you?

Much of the work done during the RLP Summer Institute connected to Johan Galtung’s ideas about human tendencies toward peace or violence based upon a specific situatedness within a given time and place in human history. It was powerful to engage with colleagues about ideas related to instances in which religion has been used to perpetuate either violence and peace depending on the given historical or cultural context. These conversations reinforced many of the same values that I hope to see imported into the thinking of my students, namely an intentional posture of intellectual humility that reflects an understanding of the complex nature of the human experience. When we garner an appreciation for diverse thinking around religious issues, we emphasize our shared mutual hope for a more just future by promoting civil discourse aimed at preserving democratic societies.

What plans do you have to implement frameworks or resources from the RLP during the coming academic year?

My hope in implementing the RLP methodological approach over the course of the academic year is primarily related to developing a training module that provides teachers with a guide for teaching about religion and religious texts from a non-devotional perspective.

Educator Profile: Tahmina Matubbar

Tahmina Matubbar is an adjunct faculty member, success coach, and academic counselor at Bunker Hill Community College, Boston, Massachusetts.

Tahmina MatubbarWhat did you find most useful, thought provoking, or exciting about the institute?

I found my colleagues responses to their teaching experiences to be useful. I also liked the variety of methods to display information such as pictures and group discussions. I thought it was thought provoking when it was mentioned that site visits to religious institutions was not encouraged as a learning experience.

What would you like to see change about the institute for next year?

In general, I would have liked to see more of a variety in the lenses of religious studies. Meaning, I would have appreciated it more if there was additional talk about the less popular religions and what that means for our students in the U.S.

What plans do you have to implement frameworks or resources from the RLP during the coming academic year?

I plan to use Galtung’s theory in my class and implement the concept of devotional vs. non-devotional texts in the classroom.