Project Design and Methods

Religion 113: Latinx Religious Experience

Religion 113 is an introductory-level course that examines the diverse nature of Latinx religion, from its indigenous roots to present-day forms, within the social and political context of American culture. In recent years, REL 113 is offered once or twice a year. Of the 30 students who enroll

Faith in Action and Community Engagement 147 in the course, easily three-quarters of the students will come from Latinx backgrounds. Usually, between half and two-thirds of the students arc female, and the grade-levels span a wide spectrum from first-year students to seniors.

The 10-week course revolves around five central themes: (a) Who are Latinxs, and What is Latinx religion? (b) Indigenous Mothers, (c) Latinx Activism, (d) Latinx Religion as Lived Experience, and (e) The Religious Dimensions of Immigration. The course uses a variety of scholarly approaches, including historical, anthropological/ethnographic, theological, and cultural studies, and it draws on a wide array of assigned readings, class lectures, class discussions, musical selections, videos, listening activities, writing assignments, and exams. Students are expected to engage the following course-specific objectives:

  • • describe the various historical and cultural trajectories that have helped to shape Latinx religion today
  • • narrate the stories associated with key religious symbols like the Virgen de Guadalupe and La Caridad del Cobre, as well as comment on their political and historical significance
  • • articulate the difference between official and popular forms of Latinx religion
  • • analyze the political and ethical significance of Latinx religion, especially as it has been influenced by liberation theology in Latin America and social activism in the U.S.
  • • assess the ways in which themes of life and death arc connected in the context of Latinx religion
  • • draw on various examples to elucidate the artistic and imaginative dimensions of Latinx spirituality
  • • reflect thoughtfully on your own family history and the ways in which it may resonate with present-day stories of Latinx immigration

As the syllabus indicates, the course is designed not only to shed light on the dynamic and rich reality of Latinx religiosity, but also to help students reflect on their own lives, regardless of their particular ethnic or racial identity. Consequently, certain assignments require students to reflect on their own experiences, cultural background, relationships, and inner values, and to integrate these elements with the course content. Two reflective writing assignments are especially worthy of mention here: (a) in week three, students write a 1,200 word “Heritage Paper” that tells the story of their own family background and heritage with reference to why, how, and under what conditions their family came to the U.S., and (b) at the end of the quarter, students complete a onc-page “Experiential Learning Statement” that allows them to reflect on two of three required immersion experiences of the course.

From 2007 to 2014, the course employed a traditional lecture-discussion style format, and the class would meet 1.5 hours twice a week. In 2016, however, the course was modified to a hybrid format to make it possible for students to attend three required half-day immersion experiences. Students participated in two ICDI field experiences—the Broadview Prayer Vigil and Courtwatch—and they also visited a Dia de los Muertos exhibit in Pilscn, a largely Mexican-American neighborhood. These opportunities did not require formal training, background checks, or long-term commitments and thus could readily accommodate student participation.

At the Broadview Prayer Vigil, students witnessed the weekly gathering of people of many faiths who stood in solidarity with the suffering of people who are in immigration detention. Students learned how the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) used the Broadview Processing Center for deportations, and they witnessed firsthand family members who were losing a loved one that day. They participated in group readings and prayers for detained immigrants, their families, politicians, and ICE officials. At Courtwatch, students received an orientation about attending immigration court from the ICDI Program Director and then entered courtrooms to observe and listen to the immigration hearings that day. They spent roughly 1.5 hours silently and patiently listening to a variety of cases. At the Dias de los Muertos exhibit, students viewed a variety of traditional and nontraditional Mexican altars that were assembled in honor of the dead. Many students also gathered afterward for lunch and conversation at a nearby Mexican eatery.

As all of these observations suggest, this course is especially well-suited for immersion experiences with ICDI given that (a) it is offered as a hybrid course, which gives students added flexibility in their schedules, (b) one of the course’s main themes focuses on the “Religious Dimensions of Immigration,” (c) ICDI is an explicitly interfaith organization, which resonates with the course’s disciplinary commitment to religious pluralism, and (d) the course’s two reflection-style papers speak to questions pertaining to immigration.

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