Scholarship and teaching are both forms of human relationship. My purpose for both is to enable the development of further relationships characterized by integrity and by an ongoing process of coming to understand. Both must therefore be governed by the same principles.
The study of religions consists in listening to unfamiliar voices with sacrificial attention, constructing conceptual models that allow one to relate what one has heard to familiar categories, and then subjecting those models and categories to deconstruction through self-criticism and further acts of listening.
Teaching religions consists primarily of modeling and fostering the process of coming to understand unfamiliar primary texts and living voices through the practice of sacrificial listening.
Students should leave a course not with ‘talking knowledge’ – the ability to talk about religion – but with ‘listening knowledge’: a basic mental map, and the moral commitment and analytical ability to use and redraw that map as they strive to understand new religious voices and develop new relationships beyond the classroom.
Since teaching not only enables the development of new relationships, but is itself one form of human relationship, sacrificial listening must be a hallmark of student-teacher interaction in and outside the classroom. Students’ contributions must be given the same quality of attention as the voices being studied, so that they too may spark revisions in my ways of thinking and teaching.
The development of this pedagogy is explained in my essay “Sacrificial Listening: Christians, Muslims, and the Secular University.”