My personal teaching philosophy is actually concisely contained within the words “teaching philosophy.” Philosophy comes from the Greek, “philo-sophia,” “love of wisdom.” When best realized, I see teaching as an act of imparting, guiding, and instructing. When approaching Religious Studies, I am honored with the task of sharing my love of theology and religious cultural literacy. For me, it is quite easy to speak lovingly about a variety of theologies even when they contradict one another and even when they radically differ from my own worldview. I do not engage in “reductio ad absurdum” to depict one school of thought as inferior to another. Instead, I endeavor to treat them all with the same level of enthusiasm and intellectual sympathy. This is my pleasure and honor because I truly enjoy the conversation that emerges when great minds attempt to answer the “big questions.”
In terms of teaching methodology, it has been my observation, as a former student who amassed 42 credit hours in Religious Studies and 33 credit hours in Master of Divinities, that the most digestible, engaging, rewarding, and memorable courses tended to combine lecture-based presentation with class discussions and student presentations. I am fond of delivering lectures through a combination of slideshow presentation programs (such as Powerpoint), short video and audio clips, and physical artifacts (such as cultural/ceremonial implements). I encourage students to raise questions at virtually any point during my lecture. When time is allocated for class discussion, I alternate between using my own prepared questions as discussion prompts and asking students to create questions based on course readings read prior to class. I feel it is important that students have an opportunity to present on essays they have written, and that their classmates are allowed to ask questions and make comments at the end of presentations. In addition to the previously stated mixture of lecture-based presentation, class discussions, and student presentations, I also like utilize my professional network by occasionally asking my colleagues and peers to contribute to the class in their area of expertise. Sometimes this might mean something elaborate like a live guest lecture or it might just be a pre-recorded video message. Additionally, I might simply put a student in touch with a specific individual to advise them in their research for an essay or presentation.
Some of the unique qualities which I bring into the classroom are my background as a translator of Buddhist texts, an ordained Buddhist minister, and my observations of Asian and South Asian religions as informed by my travels to China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, and the Philippines. I have a passion for new Asian religions which is an important area of study frequently neglected even by programs which specialize in Asian Religions. I bring humor into the classroom because the delightful quirkiness of religion in practice often contradicts our theoretical expectations of religion, and these surprising contradictions strike me as being ripe with comedic value. Plenty of students have read chapters from the Dàodé Jīng to learn about Daoism, but how many students were given a chance to watch clips of Daoist exorcist-priests dueling against vampires, ghosts, and fox demons as depicted in the popular horror-comedies of Hong Kong cinema?
In much the same manner, I feel learning outcomes should be shaped by cultural literacy. It is all well and good to have students regurgitate the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path on a mid-term or final, but would they also be able to identify the most common subjects in iconography if I dropped them off at a Buddhist temple? Would they know within five minutes of entering a Vietnamese restaurant whether the owner was Catholic, Buddhist/Daoist, Caodaist or secular based on visual cues? Would they be able to determine whether a Hindu wearing Tilaka was a Saivite, Vaishnava, or Swaminarayana just from examining the Tilaka’s design? I see the importance of both common and uncommon approaches to Religious Studies. My goal, and indeed, my promise is that students will leave my classroom both well-rounded and exceptional.
Rev. Jason Greenberger