campus partner(s)

University of Richmond






Fresh Thinking

award date


project director

Sydney Watts

University of Richmond

Grant Summary

$100,000 over 24 months. At the heart of liberal education is the willingness to engage in open, thoughtful dialogue about what we know and what we believe. Wanting to make a subject relevant and meaningful to their students, faculty often pose 'big questions' to solicit common points of reference and establish baselines for further discussion, and yet this meeting of minds raises pedagogical challenges. Asking students to suspend certain beliefs and convictions, even as classroom leaders do the same, is arguably the first step in developing critical faculties of independent thought and fostering unbiased, meaningful discussion. But in putting aside moral or religious viewpoints, do professors who claim a liberal stance practice a restrictive pedagogy? Conversely, do those who in a spirit of inclusion allow all viewpoints in a discussion immediately negate the credibility of students who believe the Bible (or other text) to be the literal, revealed truth?

The working group will explore such questions and the issues they raise by focusing on pedagogy and on faculty and curriculum development. Fifteen working group members will be selected from the faculties of the University of Richmond, the member colleges of the Associated Colleges of the South and the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, and from the historically black colleges and Universities of Virginia. Selections will be made on the basis of proposals for new or significantly revised courses in a range of disciplines that raise pedagogical challenges because of the religious, spiritual, or moral questions they entail. The group will convene for a week-long faculty seminar in summer 2007 to address these challenges and to consider the tenets of belief or unbelief as a barrier to and / or catalyst for learning. Participants will teach their courses on their respective campuses during the 2007 - 2008 academic year, continuing to communicate through electronic media, and keeping a journal of their teaching experiences. They will re-convene in summer 2008 to review the effectiveness of their work, and of the seminar itself as a tool for making it possible to offer courses that confront big questions with conceptual foundations that raise controversies of belief. A summary of the experience of each faculty member, an analysis of the effectiveness of the faculty development seminar, and a summary of the pedagogical assumptions and limitations—if any—which seem to be common to the experience of a number of faculty when dealing with religious / spiritual / moral questions in the classroom will compose the White Paper.