It should be the goal of the student to excel in two areas of study. The first is to know the traditions as they are understood by the faithful, and the second is to explore the historical, critical approach to the study of these traditions.
Equal effort on the part of the student must be applied to the knowledge of the traditional narrative of a religion, and understanding the historical approach to religion.
The classroom that successfully separates these two parts of our exploration into the world religions will offer the student the crucial tools necessary for a clear and fruitful pursuit of knowledge, and allow the inquiring undergraduate an understanding of human belief and religious behavior.
There are a number of terms that, as an instructor, I have avoided using in the introductory course in religious studies. My choices may seem odd at first, but bear with me; I have conscientiously attempted to reduce the influence of terms that undermine the goal of religious literacy. First and foremost, I have avoided using the word ‘spiritual’.
The lecture and discussion in the classroom is very often derailed by debate over this pliable word and its definition, and the all-too-common attempt at distinguishing religion from spirituality has no place in the serious classroom.
Although it is not hard to offer a definition of the term ‘spiritual’, it is almost impossible to avoid the traps baited with this term and set for the students of philosophy, anthropology, and religion. It is not fair to the student if the instructor leaves to chance the use of the term ‘spiritual’ in the introductory course on World Religions.
This topic is continued in the post “Magic Talk in the Classroom”