Last week I met a dynamic professor from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary who told me she visited this blog several times while she was teaching a course on spiritual memoir. I was delighted to meet her and to know that she used the blog as a resource.
You know what I did, of course.
I asked her to add the syllabus to our collection of other resources for professors.
She agreed. Check out this syllabus below (apologies for the formatting flukes that happened when her impeccable Word document converted to this text). Look over the syllabus. If you have any questions for the professor, raise your hand in the comment box below.
Have you ever taken a memoir class? Was it memoir-able?
Exploring Faith: Spiritual Memoirs and Christian Formation
THEO 710 (1, 2 or 3 units) Professor: Valerie Rempel, Ph.D.
Spring 2011 Office: 453-2319; Home: 453-9162
January 12-13, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., MBBS campus E-mail: Valerie.firstname.lastname@example.org January 14-15, Retreat Days
On-line, January 17-May 1, 2011 Assignments: posted to class website
April 29 (or TBA) for meal and story-telling
This course will explore Christian faith formation in both classical and contemporary understanding. It will seek to nurture an awareness of, and commitment to the practices of faith that deepen our relationship with God. It will also serve as an inquiry into contemporary faith and the nature of theological reflection. Through the stories of others (the spiritual memoirs), students will be invited to reflect on their own lives and to interact with the theological assumptions of the authors/books chosen.
This course meets the 2-unit Seminary requirement for Spiritual Formation. Alternatively, it may be used as a theology elective. There is no prerequisite and auditors are welcome to participate.
The Seminary curriculum is guided by a set of desired outcomes for each of the degree programs. This course is designed to help meet the following objectives. That every student shall:
Demonstrate commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus in Christian community
- Practice spiritual disciplines that promote maturing authentic discipleship
- Demonstrate self-awareness that promotes maturing, authentic humanity
- Develop relationship with a cohort of fellow learners under the auspices of the Seminary
- Witness persuasively to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a postmodern secular context
Interpret one’s own and other cultural contexts of ministry using theological perspectives integrated with social scientific approaches
- Describe the missio Dei view of church as a people called and sent to represent God’s reign as community, servant
- Utilize theological and social scientific tools and practices to understand and interpret the culture of a ministry and the cultural context of the ministry
- Assess the significance of cultural context for interpreting Scripture within and across cultures
TEXTS FOR THE COURSE
Required – All Students
Bass, Dorothy C. Practicing Our Faith. Jossey-Bass, 1997. ISBN-10: 0787938831
Two Unit Students – One from each of the following pairings (must include books written by either gender)
Three Unit Students – Five titles from the following list (books are listed in the order of our class discussions)
Krivak, Andrew. A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. ISBN-10: 0374166064
Winner, Lauren. Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life. Shaw Books, 2004. ISBN-10: 0877881073 (Older versions available – buy what is cheap!)
Steele, Mark. Half-Life/Die Already: How I died & Lived to Tell About It. David C. Cook, 2008. ISBN-10: 0781445523
Ilibagiza, Immaculee. Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Hay House, 2006. ISBN-10: 1401908977
Lischer, Richard. Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery. Three Rivers Press, 2002. ISBN-10: 0767907442
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. HarperOne, 2007. ISBN-10: 0060872632
Note: All titles will be on reserve at Hiebert Library. Cheap copies of the above titles are widely available at Amazon.com, Half.com and other websites. Local bookstores carry some of these titles in stock as well. The local public library system also has some of these titles available.
NATURE OF THE COURSE
This course is designed with three components. The first section (January 12-13) will serve as an introduction to the course, the practice of Christian formation, and questions related to the practice of autobiographical writing. The aim is to become acquainted with the history of Christian formation (the classical disciplines of spiritual formation) and to explore the nature of theological writing that is oriented in personal experience (questions of perspective, truth, biblical faithfulness, universality, meaning-making, etc.). The second section (January 14-15) will explore the practices of Christian formation in an on-campus retreat setting. Together, we will explore some of the practices that have shaped Christian communities throughout the centuries. We will also use this time to begin reflecting on our own stories of formation. The third section of the course will be conducted as a kind of online book club. Using threaded discussion on the class website, students will read, reflect and interact with the assigned material and each other.
2-units credit: Section 1 and 2 (January 12-15), plus selected memoirs and related assignments
3-units credit: Section 1, 2 and 3 (full syllabus)
- “Experiment” and Reflective Essay (8-10 pages). Practicing Our Faith, edited by Dorothy Bass, offers perspective on twelve practices of the Christian life. Each student is expected to choose one of the practices discussed in the book as the basis of an “experiment” lasting at least 30 days. (Alternatively, you may choose to practice one of the classic spiritual disciplines such as fasting, reading scripture, journaling, prayer, silence, etc.) In choosing a practice students are expected to try something new. Please do not choose something that you are already engaged in as a regular practice. You should expect to give roughly 15 hours of participation in this practice. Your essay should describe what drew you to the practice and how you engaged in the practice [anecdote]. It should identify what you observed/learned/ enjoyed/struggled with as you pursued your experiment [analysis]. The heart of the essay should include significant biblical and/or theological reflection around some aspect of your experiment. [application/interaction with the Christian tradition] You may also want to reflect on how your experiment is affirmed or challenged by your memoir reading. And finally, how have you been shaped by this experiment or called to something? [action] “B” work will be basically descriptive of the practice and your engagement with it. “A” work will show significant insight and self-reflection as well as theological engagement. DUE: April 30. Submit electronically via class website. Students will be invited (not required) to post their essay on the class website for others to read as well.
- Discussion Forum. This class has been designed to run throughout the spring session in an online version of a book club. Students are expected to reflect on the readings and to engage with other readers on the forum section of the class website. Two-unit students are required to read three memoirs (one each from the three pairings and books written by both men and women). Three-unit students are required to read five memoirs. The forum is a significant component of the class and students are expected to spend 3 – 4 hours writing posts and responding to comments for each book read. The discussion for each book unfolds over the course of a week (see course schedule). There are four types of postings expected for each book:
- Initial postings in response to each book by midnight Monday, Pacific Time. See schedule for exact dates and their corresponding books.
- Responses to at least two students’ initial postings by midnight Thursday, Pacific Time.
- Comments (at least two postings) in response to any postings including at least one visit to the forum in addition to the previous two and your final posting.
- Final postings by midnight Sunday, Pacific Time
Detailed description of each of these four postings follows. Grading will be done on a cumulative basis for each book discussion, meaning that one grade will be posted at the end of each forum discussion.
Initial postings (40 pts): Write an initial 300-400 word response to each book in the discussion forum. You may post this at any time prior to the Monday deadline but it is expected that you will not post until you have completed (or nearly completed!) the book. Your post should do one of the following: 1) identify a theological issue raised by the author and assess his or her treatment of that issue, OR 2) identify and assess the way in which the author engaged with one of the “practices” of the Bass book, OR 3) identify some way in which the author’s story has challenged or affirmed your understanding of the Christian life. You will be graded on clarity of thought and communication, depth of analysis and reflection, and the degree to which you engage with the material. You will receive 30-35 points if you give sufficient evidence of having read the book and identified a question or issue for discussion. You will receive 35-40 points for demonstrating some depth of insight, excellence in writing and for doing something extra—making connections to other authors, drawing on other biblical or theological material, or bringing in helpful content from another course. Please post on time. Late posts will receive an automatic 5 point deduction in the week due. Initial posts will not be acceptable after Thursday of the week.
Response and group discussion (30 pts): By midnight Thursday each student will respond to the initial posts of at least two other students in the discussion group. Please put “response” in the subject line. Your response does not need to be long but should seek to drive forward the substance of the discussion. You can do this in a variety of ways: you might elaborate on something the other person said; you might ask a question that probes at a point the person made; you might enquire about the evidence used or the logic employed; you might even say that you disagree and give your evidence. In all cases you will express your ideas carefully and respectfully to one another—even when you strongly disagree.
Students are expected to further the group discussion by contributing at least two comment posts. These conversational posts may be responses to any of the other postings. Please put “comment” in the subject line. The expectation is that you will visit the forum at least one other time in addition to your initial post, your two responses and your final post. You will receive 20-25 points if you fulfill the requirements for quantity of participation and make contributions that contribute to and enhance the discussion. You will receive 25-30 points if your contributions go beyond the minimum expectations in quantity and display excellence in “listening” to and understanding others as well as depth of insight and integration in your contributions.
Final postings (30 pts): write a final statement (150-200 words) to the group in which you describe how this author and the discussion has shaped your thinking about what it means to be Christian. Put “My Final Posting” in the subject line of your post. This should be posted by midnight Sunday, Pacific Time. Again, you will receive up to 30 points based on clarity, level of insight and your thoughtfulness in response to the author and topics raised throughout the forum discussion. Five points will be deducted for missing the Sunday deadline.
NOTE: The professor will read the discussion forums and may post an occasional comment. However, the expectation is that students will conduct the discussion. At all times students are expected to express their opinions in a way that demonstrates respect for others.
In addition to the above assignments, students enrolled for 3 units of credit are expected to write two (2) additional essays.
- Theological Reflections – Each student is expected to expand two initial posts into longer essays (5-7 pages each). The essay should identify an issue raised in your reading of a particular memoirist (e.g., an assessment of Mark Steele’s understanding of suffering, or Barbara Brown Taylor’s understanding of what it means to be “fully human,”), or a recurring theme that you encounter in your reading (e.g., ascetic practices, understanding God’s will, what it means to be converted, etc.). The essay should move beyond description to personal and theological engagement with the issue. Good essays will engage the resources of the Christian tradition as well as your own response, experiences and reflection around the issue. The essay should seek to explore how the author(s) are making meaning out of their lives and assess the faithfulness of their work to the Christian tradition. “B” essays will identify an issue and demonstrate a basic level of engagement with it. “A” essays will demonstrate the student’s ability to draw on biblical and theological material in their assessment/engagement with the memoirist. As always, grades reflect a student’s clarity of thought, excellence in writing and depth of engagement with the material. Due Dates: First essay is due March 7. Last essay is due April 4. Submit work electronically to class website.
Workload and Grading
Two-unit course (90 hours)
Class – 20 hours
Reading – 35 hours
Forum – 10 hours (3 books x 25%) = 75%
Experiment & essay – 25 hours 25%
Three-unit course (135 hours)
Class – 20 hours
Reading – 50 hours
Forum – 20 hours (5 books x 12%) = 60%
Experiment & essay – 25 hours 20%
Theological reflections – 20 hours (2 essays x 10%) 20%
Seminary academic policies (as well as other school policies) are described on the University’s website. These policies provide guidance on academic integrity and plagiarism, accommodations for disability, incomplete course work, extensions, dates for changing registration, non-discriminatory and inclusive language, appeals, grading templates, etc. Students are expected to be familiar with these policies and will be held responsible for adhering to them. If you have questions about how these policies relate to you or to a situation that you face in your studies, please speak to your professor or consult the Registrar.
January 12 Introduction to class and memoirs
January 13 Making meaning and the practice of theological reflection
January 14 Exploring the practices of Christian faith (review Bass book)
January 15 All-day retreat (8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on campus) – schedule to be distributed
April 29 (or TBA) for potluck meal and story-telling
January 31 – February 6 Krivak, A Long Retreat
February 14 – 20 Winner, Girl Meets God
February 28 – March 6 Steele, Half-Life/Die Already
March 14 – 20 Ilibagiza, Left to Tell
March 28 – April 3 Lischer, Open Secrets
April 11 – 17 Taylor, Leaving Church
February 28 Theological Essay 1 (3-unit students only)
April 4 Theological Essay 2 (3-unit students only)
April 30 Reflective Essay on Experiment – All students