We are now deep in the middle of the college term, which means (among other things) that semester projects ought soon to start taking shape. This is the case in my “American Religious History” course, where each student has recently submitted a prospectus for an original research paper.
As I was working through each of their proposals, I began to appreciate the varied topics students were interested in discussing. Because I let them choose whatever they wanted relative to American religion, there are a really wide range of themes to engage this semester. Among their selections are:
- Buddhism and the Beat poets
- Indigenous peoples and colonization
- A. B. Simpson and the Christian Missionary Alliance
- George Whitefield and slavery
- Swedenborgianism and American culture
- John Witherspoon and the American Revolution
- New Age religion and America’s postwar generation
- Islam in modern America
I am excited about this diversity. My hope is that by allowing students to write so broadly, they will be able to connect the main contours of the course to their own passions. Moreover, the unique research into a number of areas not even covered by our lectures or readings will help them engage in active learning far beyond what I could do by myself. And lastly, of course, if done well these papers might also represent a learning experience for me.
While I realize that my idealism will likely not be met by reality in all cases, even the steps they have taken in proposing such topics encourages me. Any opportunity for learners to actively engage with history is a “win,” however small, for me. May such engagement continue as we move forward.