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Appalachian Studies

 

Presentation of Religion and the Arts in Appalachia Drew Cross-cultural Course Summer 2009

1) What do you hope to accomplish pedagogically?

2) How do you articulate your course's relationship to a cross-cultural criteria for a course that is contrastive, academic, and experiential?

For nearly thirty years, the Appalachian Ministries Educational Ministry Resource Center has fostered contextual, cross-cultural education for theological students. Its grant-enhanced courses promote learning about the theological, spiritual, social, economic, and environmental aspects of Appalachian culture, especially for rural and small town settings for ministry. I designed these courses around some of the key challenges of the region: such as globalization, environment and energy, systemic poverty, education, and feature those with expertise in the cultural resources and resourcefulness of the region.

AMERC approved courses led by approved mentors include “substantial face-to-face experience with local culture and other travelers” Courses include structured theological reflection and learning experiences typical of field education, albeit limited due to time constraints.(15-16 days) They are therefore both experiential and contextual. Due to the cross-seminary participation, (2 to 4 seminaries participate in these courses) these courses offer “substantial opportunities for academic preparation and critical reflection” among a regionally and theologically diverse body of students.

 

Stated Course Goals:

  • To provide a cross-cultural experience in Appalachia for seminarians from participating seminaries.
  • To engage in an encounter with artists and religious leaders of the region to clarify issues which impact their lives, such as mountaintop removal, globalizing of regional art forms.
  • To provide a theological grounding for the arts which address the identity issues of Appalachia.
  • To engage participants with artistic culture of the area through interaction with local communities, artists and church leaders.
  • To explore the religious symbolism and faith stories found in regional arts and crafts
  • To assist in strengthening the religious witness through sharing artistic resources, educational opportunities, funding for outreach ministries, interpreting demographics, social and political issues related to the region.

The academic goals for these courses provided substantial opportunity for academic reading in religion, arts, and culture of the region. A sample of the complex focus of topics can be seen the initial lectures/presentations of the historical and sociological overview of the three Appalachias, followed by visits to the artists and environmental teachers located at the settlement at Pine Mountain, a center of resistance to mountaintop removal. The final project/presentation/paper requires the students to construct an integrative model for teaching the primary learnings of the course in a community setting in which they will have a leadership role. These courses are to provide substantial opportunities for academic preparation and critical reflection (academic reading, complex focus religion/politics/economics/arts], integrative paper.

3) What are your challenges and hopes for this course?

This cross-cultural immersion course is designed to assist participants to better understand the religious and economic realities that shape the artistic imagination and cultural forms of the Appalachian regions. The course will address issues of cultural identity, the prophetic role of the arts, and the economics of arts in Appalachia within theological grounding. One primary hope that I hope that will be addressed by this course are Preservation of art forms unique to Appalachia, educational opportunity for regional artists, prophetic imagination needed in pastoral settings, art as a source of hope and cultural survival. The on-going discussion of pedagogy is supported by regional and national conferences on Appalachian Studies. These help to strengthen my vocation of teaching others about Appalachian culture and extend an opportunity for students to explore rural ministry.

On-going questions for these courses:

  • Do this courses offer students a way to give anything back to the local resource people who teach them?
  • Are our students primarily recipients of learning or partners in an on-going dialogue about Appalachia and ministry?
  • Are they sufficiently “immersed” in the region through an AMERC course? If not, is immersion (a semester-long internship) even a desirable goal in a region that has been extensively studied by outsiders to the region.
  • How do non-Appalachian students of Appalachia critique what they hear from Appalachians? Is there room for disagreement? If so, how should it be expressed?
  • What are the most effective ways that the essential learnings of this course can be communicated to the Drew community?
  • Two forms of evaluation are used in this course:
    • Formative—daily discussions and feedback to address issues arising from their immediate context.
    • Evaluative – a formal evaluation document used by the participants as they complete the course and presented for review to the Board of Directors.