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Panel Demonstrates Divinity School’s New edX Course

By Gabrielle M. Williams, Crimson Staff Writer

Professors of the Divinity School’s new edX Scriptures course shared an array of teaching strategies and resources from each of the six course modules at an introductory panel in Andover Hall on Tuesday.

The course, titled “World Religions Through Their Scriptures,” has already attracted 22,000 registered participants as of its official launch on Tuesday, according to Diane L. Moore, the faculty leader of the course and director of the Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project.

Designed to improve public religious literacy and deconstruct misconceptions about different faiths, the course will cover each of the five major world religions over the course of the next six months: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.

The panel event functioned as a preview of the interdisciplinary online course, which will incorporate lectures, social media, and multimedia activities to help participants absorb the material. The course will also use discussion and multimedia forums to foster student interaction, as participants have already been directed to introduce themselves on the course’s Twitter feed.

“We are not trying to give a comprehensive introduction to five of the world’s religious traditions,” Moore said. “What we are trying to do is give people language and tools to think about religion in some new and creative and constructive ways through illustration.”

Professors emphasized the role of experiential engagement with scripture using multiple forms of media in their course modules, rather than exclusively studying the written scriptures themselves.

Neelima Shukla-Bhatt, an associate professor of South Asian Studies at Wellesley College who will be teaching the Hinduism module of the course, said many Hindu texts were passed on through oral traditions for thousands of years before they were written down in textual form.

“Performance is the primary mode of transmission,” Shukla-Bhatt said. “I hope that at the end of my session, the students will ask what makes a text scripture? Where does the authority of the scripture lie? Is it in performance, or is it in the text itself?”

To illustrate the aesthetic and experiential aspects of Islam and Muhammad’s teachings in particular, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations professor Ali S. Asani ’77 played a video of a concert recitation of the Quran for the audience.

“We are really engaging with the artistic dimensions: the sonic, the visual, and the literary,” Asani said.

John A. Sibley, a resident fellow at the Divinity School, said he thinks the course has a lot of ground as it covers each religion for only one month, and that course participants will need to show commitment.

—Staff writer Gabrielle M. Williams can be reached at gabrielle.williams@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @GabWilliams23.

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