The growing presence of non-Christian religions in the U.S. creates a diverse religious climate. At the same time, this increasing religious diversity does not imply religious pluralism, a reality that includes participation in each other’s lives. In this paper, I will propose a model for cultivating a pluralist approach to other religions while teaching college level religious studies courses. According to this model, in order to fully engage students in the appreciation of religious difference, one needs to apply a pedagogy of mindful contemplation. Studies in medicine and psychology have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation generates emotional and physical well-being, improves attention, memory, and cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, recent findings have attested that mindfulness decreases stress and fosters empathy among nursing students, social workers, psychotherapists, and primary care physicians. Many scholars have advocated the use of contemplative practices in higher education as a result of its holistic benefits such as transformative learning that occurs on affective and cognitive levels. In light of these findings, I will argue that mindfulness meditation (and other forms of contemplative practices) can become an effective means of encouraging the empathy, appreciation, and understanding of those who practice religions other than one’s own. Researchers and practitioners of mindfulness meditation inform us that this practice fosters adaptive, flexible, and receptive awareness. In getting rid of fears and prejudices towards ourselves, mindfulness practice can become the first step to a more empathetic attitude towards others. I will propose that contemplative practices allow students to process unwarranted fears and prejudices they might harbor and transform them into a constructive engagement with actual religious differences.
|Keywords:||Transformative Pedagogy, Mindfulness Meditation, Contemplative Education, Religious Diversity, Pluralism|
Professor, Religious Studies, North Central College, Naperville, Illinois, USA
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