A Curriculum for Interfaith Study and Teaching, by Michael Shire and Robert W. Pazmiño

Havruta is an Aramaic word meaning friendship or fellowship. As an ancient form of textual study, it has become normative in the world of Jewish traditional study in the yeshiva or beit midrash. It involves a pair of students helping each other to read and understand the written text together. The word refers both to the partners engaged in the study as well as the actual process of collaborative learning. There are three types of dynamics involved in Havruta learning. The first is the idea of shared ownership of the text in which both partners equally engage in exegesis and isogesis collaboratively. The second is the active listening and reflecting back of each partner in order to fully understand the stance of the partner Havruta relationships can become lifelong relationships that may begin with the text but continue in a larger context of work, friendship or lifelong study. It becomes a spiritual practice and a means of meaning making between two trusted study and life partners. The learning skills developed in Havruta can include critical reasoning, finely honed argumentation, second person perspective taking, analytical reasoning, appreciation and wonder to name but a few. These learning stances are not dissimilar from the impact of collaborative and cooperative learning. The Havruta model became a conceptual framework for designing a course in teaching and learning across two religious traditions as well as providing a guiding framework for the relationship between instructors and between instructors and students.

In this course, we used Havruta widely and extended it to dyads and larger group work as well as between ourselves as instructors. Student feedback demonstrated the powerful experiences of working closely with colleagues from another religious perspective and tradition and specifically appreciated the havruta relationshipmodeled by the instructors. This approach honors both particularism and pluralism among faith traditions. The course content focused the teaching and learning in ourtwo religious traditions in three foci: textual study, teaching and learning for social responsibility and enculturation of customs and ceremonies. These were areas we felt had significant valence in both traditions but with distinct contributions offered by each faith. It was our goal thereforeto ‘teach about’ these foci in two traditions but also ‘teach from’ these foci towards deeper and broader understanding.

 

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