Nonviolence, Activism, and Contemplative Life

Discipline: Religion General
Instructor: Coburn
Credits: 3

Field Work: Day 1 - Tuesday, 15 March | South Africa Download Syllabus

This course explores a central paradox that runs through religious life. One the one hand, one of the distinguishing features of contemplative life is the aspiration to live in the present moment, timelessly, On the other hand, contemplatives have often been deeply involved in activist struggles to improve the social and political conditions of their time and place. How can this be? Examples from around the globe will engage students in understanding the dynamics of this paradox in different traditions and in different cultural settings, including those on this semester’s itinerary.

Field Work

Country: South Africa
Day: 1 - Tuesday, 15 March

Our field lab—Three Faiths Pilgrimage—will take place in Cape Town. Cape Town is a multiracial city that includes vibrant Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities. Islam was introduced by slaves brought over 300 years ago from Indonesia. The Jewish community traces its history to religious persecution in Europe. An estimated 80 percent of South Africans are Christians, and St. George’s Anglican Cathedral was the site of much interfaith protest during the struggle against apartheid. Guided by South African peace activist Terry Crawford-Browne (a former SAS professor, who will also be a wonderful resource for further inquiry), the walking tour of downtown Cape Town will include a mosque in Bo-Kaap, the Jewish Center, the Slave Lodge and St. George’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu was based. The visit to the Cathedral also includes an opportunity to walk the labyrinth (praying with your feet) to meditate upon the experiences. Please note: modest dress is required for the mosque. No shorts, short skirts, or exposed midriffs permitted. Women should bring a scarf to wear as a head-covering. Students will go out to a restaurant for lunch. Students will be provided with one or more questions to address in their field lab reports, which should be 3-5 pages (750-1250 words) in length.

Academic Objectives:
1. Deepened understanding of the anti-apartheid movement’s history.
2. Comparative understanding of different religious communities’ experience and involvement in this movement.
3. Opportunity to discuss with participants the on-going struggles for social justice.