Belief, Faith, and Justice: Practicing Activism, Living Religion: Belief, Faith, and Justice: Practicing Activism, Living Religion
What can we learn by conceiving of “faith” as a verb—of faith as an action? How then should we live? These questions form the crux of contemporary dilemmas for all informed citizens curious about re-thinking the roots of shared centers of value and power. We will begin our study by examining meanings of “faith” and “religion” as distinguished from “belief” in the works of W.C. Smith and James W. Fowler. Once “faith” is understood as a verb, as an active way of “knowing” reality and of “being in the world,” critical questions can be raised as to the contents of faith. No longer simplistically understood solely in terms of “belief in the creed” of an organized religion, we will begin to see that we can and do have “faith” in many things even if we are avowed agnostics or atheists. Furthermore, once we turn to a critical definition of religion, we will see that this concept is not limited to what happens in a church, synagogue or temple but what happens in other areas of our lives as well, not the least of which includes what happens on the political and commercial floors of our government buildings and financial institutions both at the local and national levels. Finally, a definition of “ritual” broadly conceived will enable us to see the ways in which we are shaped to adhere to certain forms of belief by participating in public and private rituals whether or not we are aware of it. With these theoretical underpinnings in place, we will explore the music and movement of a subversive martial art called Capoeria; the humble practice of birthing social justice by standing ‘out of the way;’ and attempts at direct impact social action of ‘militant pacifism.’ Several guest presenters from various faith backgrounds and diverse approaches to practicing justice will join us at key junctures in the class. Course materials and assignments will include compelling documentaries, community-based experiential learning, small group "think tanks," mini-lectures, and larger group dialogue. There will also be chances for participant-observation at a field-site of your choosing and bibliographic research. In this course, you will be encouraged and challenged to find ways to relate this class to ongoing research (such as developing a Capstone) through innovative engagement with the course's themes, methods, and topics.