Challenging Preconceptions and Perspectives

Supporting Leaders

Challenging Preconceptions and Perspectives

19 Jun 2014

It is important we provide leaders with the knowledge, analysis and skills to navigate the complexity of religions impact in the world. Our Faith & Globalisation Teaching Network is providing future leaders with this support. We recently spoke to Debra McDougall who teaches a faith and globalisation unit and Jorge Villagomez Mendoza who recently enrolled in a course to hear about their Faith & Globalisation experience.

Interview

Debra McDougall: Multidisciplinary Approach Challenges Preconceptions

Debra McDougall has been teaching inspiring units on faith and globalisation at the University of Western Australia since 2010. As an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at UWA she teaches a number of other courses, including an introduction to anthropology. Since 1998, she has conducted extensive fieldwork in the Solomon Islands. She has co-edited (with Matt Tomlinson) a volume entitled Christian Politics in Oceania (Berghahn Books, 2013) and has published ethnographic essays and chapters on pre-Christian warfare, property, conflict and peacemaking, women's Christian fellowship, and men's conversion to Islam as well as essays on the anthropology of Christianity.

Multidisciplinarity is a key criterion for faith and globalisation courses taught across the TBFF universities' network. Why do you think that the multidisciplinary nature of the Faith and Globalisation course is crucial?

Debra McDougall: Religion is such a complex phenomena that is always important to have diverse perspectives on it. So the different disciplines ask different questions and get different answers. And ideally these disciplines compliment or challenge each other.

Think about anthropology, which is my discipline. What does the anthropology bring to the multidisciplinary approach? If you look at any comparative religion textbook you have got these awkward first chapters on indigenous or tribal religions. These are the chapters that anthropologists have looked at in great detail in the last 150 years. We have this long tradition of looking not at what the elite or texts say, or what doctrine says but looking at what the ordinary people do and say.

That's a particularly disciplinary approach, but we also have blind spots. We often haven't paid attention to theology. So, I think that an initiative and a unit that bring together these different approaches gives a fuller picture of complex phenomenon of religion in the global world.

And how have your students benefited?

Debra McDougall: While teaching Faith & Globalisation I have done different things in different semesters, but this semester we brought in a number of people who are practicing the faith they were talking about. A social science perspective - an anthropological or sociological perspective - is usually an outsider looking in. Hearing the voices from within a tradition has been really useful for students, particularly secular students. My university is quite secular and a lot of students have stereotypes about what religious people are like. Having people that are from within religious traditions challenged students. And they found that really enriching.

Is it correct that the multidisciplinary approach encourages students to be more open-minded?

Debra McDougall: I suppose the multidisciplinary approach does help students to become more open-minded or challenge certain preconceptions. I should say that one of the ways that the unit here is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary is that students come from many different kinds of majors. In this years class we had few anthropology majors. We have several political science majors, who were always asking about the relationship between religion and the state. But we had students who were studying social work abs health and they had different kinds of questions about the material. So the multidisciplinary is not just in the speakers and course materials but also in what students brought to the unit. 

Interview

Jorge Villagomez Mendoza: Faith & Globalisation Has Changed My Perspective

Jorge Villagomez Mendoza is studying engineering at Tecnológico de Monterrey, one of the founding members of the Faith & Globalisation Teaching Network. This semester he enrolled in the "Beliefs Systems and Globalisation" course. Jorge is very close to his family and the Mexican way of life and was keen to share his thoughts on the course with the rest of the network.

According to official statistics 90% of Mexican population is Christian, with Catholics making up to 83% of that group. Why do you think that a course, such as "Beliefs Systems and Globalisation", is important in a Mexican context?

Jorge Villagomez Mendoza: In Mexico the majority of the population is Christian, so that could create an environment where people of another religion could not be accepted or could be rejected, violating their human rights.

I think that the course is very important because it gives us the knowledge to understand different cultures and religions. The course is destroying these barriers, and it is making possible for people, like me, to know about other cultures and their traditions, so I think that the knowledge transmitted by the course is changing paradigms and is opening people's minds, creating a more tolerant environment where everyone is equal no matter their religion. During the course I learned a lot about Islam and Islamic traditions that I was not aware off.

Globalisation and technology is changing the way in which we meet people, we shouldn't let our religion become a barrier, and so everyone who participated in the course can make a difference. Even a slight difference can start changing people's perspectives.

This education will make possible the creation of a new society, where multicultural environments can coexist peacefully.