The Wabash Conference at IUP offered professors of religion and theology from all SSHE colleges and universities an opportunity to come together and exchange ideas, values, and goals for their religious studies curricula.
Created and sustained by grants from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion seeks to strengthen and enhance education in North American theological schools, colleges, and universities. See Wabash Center mission.
“Teaching Religious Studies Courses at a State University in Pennsylvania,” a series of conferences at IUP funded by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, 2006-2009.
The Wabash grant was awarded to the Department of Religious Studies at IUP in 2006 to fund a series of three annual two-day workshops/conferences at IUP about teaching religious studies courses at state universities. In addition to a focus on teaching strategies, each year also had a sub-theme around which to orient pedagogical discussions. Participants included IUP faculty from the Department of Religious Studies, colleagues from across the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and several guest speakers who spoke on aspects of different world religions. A number of the participants have contributed to an online source book to teaching religious courses at secular institutions. Resources for Teaching Religious Studies Courses.
The first conference (May 18-19, 2007) had the sub-theme “Critical Thinking on Women and Religion.” The guest speakers were Sara Nomani, a freelance journalist, author, and activist for women’s rights in Islam from Morgantown, W.Va.; the Venerable Professor Yifa, a Buddhist nun and the chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of the West in Rosemead, Calif.; and Professor Anne Clifford, a Catholic theologian and professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Each of the speakers discussed women’s issues and feminism within their own traditions. Professor Sherry Rowley of York University in Toronto of the University of Toronto, a specialist in interdisciplinary feminist studies as well as an award-winning teacher, engaged participants as the year’s pedagogical expert.
The second conference (May 30-31, 2008) had the sub-theme “Religion and Media.” Our guest speakers were Asra Nomani, a freelance journalist, author, and now leader of the Daniel Pearl Project at Georgetown University; Dr. Paul Rose, professor of European History and Mitrani Professor of Jewish Studies at the Pennsylvania State University; and Christine Wicker, a journalist for the Dallas Morning News and author of several books on religion in America. Ms. Nomani considered the media’s difficulties in dealing with Islam, in her “Islam and the Media: What We Get Right and What We Get Wrong.” Professor Rose treated anti-Semitism in society and the media in, “How A Culture Becomes Antisemitized: The Shift in British Mentality and Media from 1983‑2008." Ms. Wicker dealt with the media’s reporting on religion in America, in “We've Been Duped and the Media Helped It Happen.” The year’s pedagogical expert was Professor Eugene Gallagher, Rosemary Park professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College, who, in addition to being an award-winning teacher at his university and in the state of Connecticut, is a specialist in modern religious movements. Professor Gallagher titled his contribution “Teaching for Religious Literacy” and led very productive roundtable discussions on pedagogy.
The third and final conference (April 17-18, 2009), had as its sub-theme, “Religion and Violence, and the Response of the Public Intellectual.” The three guest speakers this year were: Professor A. Holly Shissler, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago; Asra Nomani, a freelance journalist, author, and leader of the Daniel Pearl Project at Georgetown University; and Professor Sathianathan Clarke of Wesleyan Theological University.
Dr. Shissler spoke on the topic, “Critic or Apologist, Loyal Citizen or Fellow Traveler? Middle East Specialists in the post-9/11 Age.” She addressed political issues she had confronted during her tenure as director of the Middle Eastern Studies program at the University of Chicago. Ms. Nomani’s talk was titled, “Ivory Tower 2.0: How (and Why) Academics Can Use the Media to Become Public Intellectuals—Especially on Issues of Religion and Violence.” She was concerned with persuading and aiding our attendees to try to publish their ideas in the mainstream media, not only in academic publications. Finally, Dr. Clarke, an expert on the interactions between India’s Hindus and Christians, spoke on “Hindu Fundamentalism, Dalit Assertion and Organic Violence.”
The conference series was a great success, and the IUP Department of Religious Studies is grateful to the Wabash Center for funding and support.
For further information, please visit the Wabash Center website.
Professors who were in attendance: Dr. Kwasi Yirenkyi, Dr. James Gibson, Dr. Theresa Smith, Dr. Tamar Reich, and Dr. Tawny Holm.