By Mikayla E. Sievers
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about traveling. Traveling is something that opens our eyes to new ideas and ways of life. Last summer, I took a trip to Iceland. I saw lots of wonderful sights and met some marvelous people, but one person helped me pursue an academic dream I had: presenting at a university in England. I am so fortunate that I met Dr. Carrie Crisp. Dr. Crisp is a professor of ethics in Texas. She introduced me to the Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies and encouraged me to apply. I submitted my abstract and received the acceptance email the first day of this semester. I was ecstatic and thrilled to share my work with religious scholars from around the world. The Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies occurred during UI’s Dead Week.
The conference took place for three days in the library of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on the Oxford campus. This building is the oldest building on the campus. Graduate students, professors, Ph.D. candidates, and lecturers presented. People from all over the world attended this conference, and it was awesome to learn how these scholars became drawn to their fields, how they learned the English language, and their further directions for research. Each presentation lasted for 20 minutes with a 10-minute Q&A session. I learned so much from the presentations given at the symposium. On the last day, I joined a group of scholars on a trip to the church tower to overlook the city of Oxford. It was a tight squeeze to climb the narrow stairs, but the views were worth it.
I originally developed the project I took to this conference as my final paper/presentation topic in my intercultural communication course. When students come from different linguistic/cultural backgrounds to an English as a Second Language (ESL) class, they are introduced to the culture of their new language as well as other cultures. Culture becomes an integrated part of teaching language, and religion heavily influences culture and in return, language. The project introduces students to religion in their new culture and other cultures they may encounter, and it is focused on teaching religious language to high school ESL students. Students learning religious vocabulary and content in English will gain language skills to explain their own religion in English, particularly if it is not the dominant one in the host community. In addition, they may possibly confront stereotypes about certain religious groups. I draw on multiple theoretical frameworks in the fields of Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and linguistics: Byram’s Intercultural Communicative Competence and Intercultural Speakers model; Hymes’ Communicative Competence model; and Krasmsch’s third place.
The purpose of my project is to teach language through content and provide linguistic equity to those learning English as a second language. Students who practice a religion that is not the dominant religion in the host culture, women, and those who wear religious head coverings sometimes face certain linguistic and cultural difficulties in explaining their religion to those who ask about it. This pedagogical project would provide them the vocabulary, religious jargon, and confidence to discuss their religion when people ask about it.
The students will learn religious vocabulary and English pronunciation of these words as well as grammar structures and how to speak about religion in different contexts. The content being learned consists of religious beliefs, values, and problems people who practice a religion may encounter in society. Some of the student learning outcomes of this project include defining religious words, naming characteristics of the major world religions, and developing speaking fluency from class discussions. This project is easily adapted to other classroom contexts like university, it is adaptable to geographical regions, and it can be taught in other foreign language contexts (e.g. Spanish, French, Chinese classes etc.). At this symposium, I was the only person who had a language/education presentation. Outside of the symposium, I explored various houses of worship in Oxford. It is a university town with people from a multitude of
backgrounds. I also toured the Oxford campus.
I am so grateful that my experience traveling in Iceland ultimately brought me to the Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies. Traveling to a new place provides new perspectives, lifestyles, and ways to handle situations that arise, but sometimes traveling brings unexpected gifts like conferences to Oxford. I thank Dr. Crisp for introducing me to the world of religious scholarship. It is important that we uplift everyone during their studies, especially during finals week. In addition to Dr. Crisp, I would like to thank my major professor Dr. Bal Krishna Sharma, Professor Barbara Kirchmeier and past professors Dr. Rebecca Tallent, Dr. Ashley Kerr, Dr. Lori Celaya, Dr. Marta Boris Tarre, and Professor Ani Alcocer for their support and encouragement in my academic career. I also want to thank the Women’s Center, the Department of English, the Graduate & Professional Student Association, and Troy Lutheran Church for their sponsorship to my conference attendance.