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III. The Contemplative Pedagogy Coward

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2019

Maureen L. Walsh*
Rockhurst University


When I was asked about contributing to this roundtable on contemplative pedagogy, I was honored to be included in the mix. Yes, I have experimented in my teaching with contemplative practices for about five years now, and so I fit the group's focus in that way. And yes, my postdoctoral work focused on university pedagogy, and so it would seem like I would be a natural for this sort of roundtable. But before I go any further, I feel as though I need to out myself for who I truly am—instead of being a contemplative professor, I am a contemplative coward. No doubt, I have been impressed reading about and witnessing other professors’ thoughtful uses of contemplative practices in the classroom. And I even dabble in having my world religions students “go through the motions” of religious practices from Buddhism and Islam. But as I spent time thinking through my approach in anticipation of this roundtable, it became clear that my efforts have been nothing short of cowardly, due to the fact that, first, I have questioned my own ability to lead students in contemplative exercises, and second, I have been wary of asking students to engage in the practices of religious others in a serious way.

Pedagogical Roundtable
Copyright © College Theology Society 2019 

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28 Credit for this phrase goes to Noah Silverman, Senior Director of Learning and Partnerships at the Interfaith Youth Core. He used it in the context of a 2015 conversation we had regarding the claims our home religious traditions continue to make on us (and us on them) even if we no longer strongly identify with the tradition in other ways. Silverman has since published his ideas on this theme in the essay Called by Our Conflicting Allegiances: Vocation as an Interfaith Endeavour/Interfaith Cooperation as a Vocation,” in Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy, ed. Cunningham, David S. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 In fact, this was the first year in the university's history in which Catholic students did not make up the majority of the incoming freshman class.

30 As a side note, the assignment announcement is riddled with pleas that the students approach the fast in ways that are smart for their health and well-being. For students who wish to do an alternative assignment for any reason, I ask them to follow the rhythm of five-times-per-day Muslim prayer for three days. I tell them that they are not expected to pray during this time (though they may if they wish), but they are to download an app that will remind them of the daily prayer times and then take a few minutes for a consistent short practice, such as quiet time, listening to a meaningful song, journaling, or stretching at the prescribed times. They then write a reflection paper as do their classmates who fast.

31 Zajonc, “Contemplative Pedagogy,” 93.

32 Hess, Lisa, “Being Shaped by the Ritual Practices of Others: A Classroom Reflection,” Teaching Theology & Religion, 16, no. 4 (October 2013): 340CrossRefGoogle Scholar.