Friday, August 23, 2013

doing theology: teaching theology by induction

I’m teaching an introduction to Christian theology topic this Semester.

I began with a two questions and a proposal. First question, does anyone here not have access to a computer? All did. Second question, does anyone here not have access to a printer? All did. Which led to the proposal. I will put all the lecture notes and class readings online. And when we meet, rather then talk theology ie me lecture you, we will do theology ie I will guide you, through the readings and my doing theology together.

We were all a bit apprehensive about this new approach, since the dominant model of education involves an expert imparting knowledge. But I was keen to explore a learning by doing, induction process, which better equipped them for the complexity of life beyond the classroom.

To help guide them, I have outlined to them the following process, which they used to get them going.

  • My (current) theological question is …
  • I’m curious about this because ….
  • The theological frame I’m going to us is (in week one I suggested three examples Wesleyan quadrilateral, Miroslav Volf’s three questions, indigenous storytelling approach) …
  • My conversation partners will need to include ….
  • The values I have used to chose them include (from week three) ….
  • I’d like to express my findings by (in week two we noted blogs, film, story, liturgy, writing) …

So far, after four weeks, we are all greatly energised. They have come up with excellent theological questions – none that we would have discussed in a normal syllabus, yet all touching key theological themes. They loved the conversation partner idea. The process really energised the library visit I then organised, when they got shown how to use databases to find conversation partners. Some were heading back to the library  after class to search further.

For those interested, I also gave them one example, one of my recent “doing theology” projects – Let me in the sound.

  • My (current) theological question is … How does Bono (U2) enable people to connect with God? Can live concerts be a form of liturgy – a communion with the saints?
  • I’m curious about this because …. I’m a minister and I wonder how to connect with people; and because in U2 concerts they often reference dead people and I wonder what that does to a live concert, in which some people have faith and other’s do not?
  • The theological frame I’m going to us is … a form of Volf – Who are humans (Bono, U2, and the audience)? how they do we live (behave in a live concert)?
  • My conversation partners will need to include …. websites – to find out more about what happens in a U2 concert; U22 album – as a record of what happens at concerts; U22 photo records – to focus on Bono’s performance; social media – understand how others interpret Bono; books about the Irishness of U2 – is there a connection between communion of saints and their Irishness; research on how people remember; books on Christian liturgy – how is the body used in performance.
  • I’d like to express my findings by …..blogging them, to see if anyone agrees; verbally, at a U2 academic conference; written as a chapter proposal for a book; thinking more carefully about how I use my body and how I pray in worship.
Posted by steve at 02:29 PM


  1. Well done. It looks engaging & productive.

    It reminds me of the way Michael Sandel teaches his moral & political philosophy course “Justice” at Harvard, getting the students to do their own moral reasoning, then explaining the (usually unknown) influences present in their arguments. His lectures are on iTunes U if you don’t know them and you’re curious …

    Comment by IainM — August 23, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

  2. Thanks Iain. It raises the question for me of what we expect of students. I presume the Course you quote is post grad and thus participants have general skills in independent, critical and integrative thinking. Are these developed enough in first year Uni for my approach? We’ll see.


    Comment by Steve — August 23, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

  3. I’m not sure what level it is offered at to be honest. But I know the feeling. We’re in the process of implementing “Small Group Discovery Experiences” at 1st year level at the University of Adelaide. It is very hard to know what to expect of the students, both in terms of the general skills you mentioned and the specific “tools” of scientific discovery in biology.

    “We’ll see” sums it pretty nicely, I think!

    Comment by IainM — August 23, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

  4. Iain

    I’ve used small group experiences in other first year topics and developed a range of pedagogies to support that.

    But that is as part of content – alongside usual lecturing.

    This essentially is the entire course,


    Comment by steve — August 23, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

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