Book: On the Subject of Religion
Chapter: Response: Title TBD
Jonathan Z. Smith and other critical scholars have taught us a lot about teaching a critical approach to the study of religion in North America and European universities—where all students are typically native English Speakers and familiar with the terms and categories of the field—but what about a classroom on other side of the world where all your students are English Second Language (ESL) learners? How is it possible to teach a critical approach to the study of religion when none of your students are fluent in the English terms and categories that you want to critique? Is it necessary to introduce such ESL students to the classic essentialist paradigms before you can challenge them, or can you simply jump right into critical analysis? In my response to Rosalind Hachett’s paper on ‘International Perspectives on the Feild’, I address these questions by discussing my experience teaching religious studies in Thailand over the past several years. Drawing upon the work of critical scholars and basic ESL teaching techniques, I will provide an introduction to teaching religion as ESL. I will start by summarizing some of the initial challenges I faced when I first started teaching ESL students overseas and the pedagogical tricks I developed along the way. Detailing how I learned to mix religious studies literature with basic ESL techniques in order to teach BA and graduate classes, I will provide specific examples of the in-class exercises, worksheets, and measurable indicators I use to gauge student comprehension of the material and help them improve their reading, writing, and speaking skills. Moreover, I will discuss how I introduce students to critical theory without assigning lengthy and complex texts for home reading. All together, this will show how teaching religion as ESL certainly comes with its challenges and limitations, but that it can be done in a critical manner.