Intercultural Understanding and Religion – Philosophy

This spring semester of 2016, I’m doing a minor abroad, in Norway. This minor, Intercultural Understanding and Religion, is divided into three modules, each module has a different topic and is taught by a different teacher. We are finished with our first module now and I’m so bummed that I didn’t keep a blog. We have had so many interesting lectures and conversations in class. I will try to remember and see if I can give sort of a summary of what he have done so far.

First dialogue
The first day started directly with doing a dialogue together with the class. First, we needed to answer the following question: “What does a teacher need to function well in a multicultural and multi religious classroom?” Together we came up with some virtues. At the end, we democratically decided that we wanted to work more with the virtue of ‘respect’, as we saw this as most important. We wanted to answer the following question during this session: “What is respect?” The teacher now asked us to think of our own story in which we either received respect or gave respect to someone. Everyone shared a story and at the end we chose one story to work with. After choosing this story, we could ask the person that the story belonged to some clarifying questions so that we understood all the decisions made and thoughts behind the story. It was a very personal session, but we gained each other’s trust and understanding during this. Everyone listened to each other and tried to understand one another. After exploring the story, we were asked to give an answer to the question of what respect is. We first thought of a definition in pairs and then reformed as 2 groups of 5. In this group of 5, everyone shared the definition they thought of with their pair and tried to come up with a new definition together.

We had some more dialogues facilitated by our teacher, but I won’t get into detail about them. The topics of these dialogues were:
“Do all things in the universe have a place in a plan?”
“Should I follow desire or duty?”
“What does it mean to be authentic?”

During every dialogue, we explored different ways of going into dialogue. This was mainly how the facilitator handled it. This varied from the class picking out a personal story that is to be examined to having one set question and answer with yes or no first before giving any arguments. We explored a lot of different ways of facilitating a dialogue. This was very helpful as we had to facilitate our own dialogue later in the module and of course we take all this with us as future teachers.

Last week’s dialogue
In the final week of this module, we did a dialogue in a completely different way. This is worth to write about. At first, we looked at two videos about Lao Tzu. During these videos, we had to write down three main concepts that spoke to us. There were two sentences that really spoke to me, one in each video:
“The usefulness of a pot, comes from its emptiness”
“The grass must bend when the wind blows upon it.”
All the concepts were written on the board and we had to pick one to work with, which was ‘returning to the source’. The teacher asked us all to close our eyes and made remarks when doing this, like “Go with the stream” “What do you see?” “What do you hear?” the goal was to go to ‘the source’. After a few minutes she told us to come back again and asked us one by one if we could share with the rest what we saw. This was completely different for everyone. After sharing, we made a poem together. Everyone had to describe their ‘journey’ in 2 poetic sentences. After sharing these sentences, we made one big poem out of combining and re-ordering these sentences. The poem turned out great and we were all proud of the class for doing this. I will not post the poem here, due to privacy reasons. If you’re interested in what I saw and my sentences for the poem, feel free to ask.

My own dialogue
As a final paper to hand in, we had to facilitate our own dialogues and do these with the class. After these dialogues, we had to reflect on them and connect them to literature, this would then turn out to be our final paper. The dialogues were very interesting to attend and my own to facilitate. We spoke about issues like refugees, invisibility, bravery and thought about questions like ‘does God exist?’, ‘If a pig could talk, would you eat it?’ The dialogue I facilitates was about a chair. I got this idea from ‘The If machine’, a book we had to purchase for our study. This book has a lot of philosophy lessons in there that can be done with primary school children. I began the dialogue with putting a chair in the middle of the class and asked what this was. I told them that at the end of the session, they might think differently. It was very fun to do. All the dialogues were extremely beneficial for us as a group and for our thinking process.
During one of my classmate’s dialogues, we explored a personal story of myself. I completely understood what my classmate during the first session felt while everyone was exploring his/her story. I had a real feeling of being listened to, being understood and trust.

Next to all these very interesting dialogues, we have had some very interesting literature to read. We had to give some class presentations about philosophers and read books of articles to prepare for an upcoming lecture. One of the literature that I found most interesting was a dialogue from Plato. This dialogue was 40 pages of very deep conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus. We had to understand what was going on and communicate this to our classmates through a presentation. I had to read it twice before I totally understand what they were talking about, and to then transfer this understanding to your classmates, who haven’t read it, in a short presentation is an extremely big challenge. However, this was so very interesting to do and it made me want to read all of the other dialogues of Plato.

Final word
I guess I remember quite some bit, looking back at what I wrote. This isn’t really a short summary after all. However, when I think back about all the things we’ve done, this doesn’t even come close to covering all of that. But still, this is a general impression of all the things we’ve learned, which is definitely a lot. Still two more modules to go, I can’t wait!

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