These are the last few minutes of the last class of the Fall semester. WHEW! It’s been a long, full, challenging, and great fifteen weeks of study with fourteen second year honors students at Loyola Marymount University.
Up bounds a student on her way out of the door. “Thanks so much for the class professor. I would never have gone to visit a mosque if it weren’t for that sacred space assignment.” Off she went, grabbing a handful of final exam study snacks from the front desk on the way out.
This student and her roommate usually arrived in each class giggling, sharing a private joke. About a month ago, however, they caught me in the hall before they or I entered the room. More than the usual energy and enthusiasm overflowed, even more quickly than the words tumbling out of their mouths.
“Professor, we just visited the King Fahad Mosque. The guide was great! She took us all around, explained everything, showed us how to wash before prayer and gave us head scarves to wear. It was awesome! Our sacred space papers are going to be fantastic!” I imagine so. The volume and details of their joy increased, so much so that I invited them to give a two-minute pop-up presentation as class began.
Each time I teach this course I introduce the semester’s journey by “solemnly” announcing that this is one of the most important classes they will ever take. (Pause for reaction) After the quiet laughter, I continue, a bit more casually, by explaining that in their classrooms, dorm rooms, present and future employment, towns, cities, families, circles of friendship and even among their present and future love interests, they will inevitable encounter persons from religious traditions different from their own.
My goal, as Harvard’s Dr. Diana Eck encourages, is to recruit students “…to the serious study of religion as essential equipment for the age of pluralism in which we live today.”
How will students as managers and administrators, arrange company or academic calendars to accommodate co-workers’ participation in religious observances? Which foods will be available, included and/or avoided in cafeterias and during parties and celebrations? Are there easily accessible, private places in buildings for prayers throughout the day? Given the impossible task of learning the details of all traditions one might encounter, what are essential categories of information to explore as circles of religious identities within close contacts widen?
“You know professor? That visit was my favorite part of the class. I came back, though, realizing how much implicit bias I had against Islam and Muslims.” Yes, she used vocabulary we’d discussed in class. Hallelujah! “I have to change, in my head, what I’ve been taught.”
It’s not that “my work here is done.” In this class, however, we’ve made a good beginning.
For information about the Pluralism Project, click here.