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A conversation about scholarship and teaching with Dr. Roger Nam of George Fox University, Dr. Eric Barreto of Luther Seminary, and Dr. Kate Blanchard of Alma College.
Teaching the I Ching (Book of Changes)
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
The I Ching (or Yijing, Book of Changes) is one of the great works of world literature, but at first approach it can be perplexing at best. Geoffrey Redmond is a scholar of textual criticism and Asian spiritual traditions (he is also an MD). Tze-ki Hon, professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo, is a specialist in Chinese cultural history and classical Chinese thought, including the commentaries on the I Ching. Together these authors provide a judicious, illuminating account of this classic Chinese text. Teaching the I Ching is a valuable reference for scholars and students alike, and a superb sourcebook for teaching the I Ching at the undergraduate level.
The authors trace the complex history of the I Ching’s development through three millennia, beginning with its Bronze Age origins in divinatory practices using yarrow sticks, precursors of the hexagrams of the traditional work. The earliest texts, preserved on bound bamboo strips, are first attested to around 300 BCE, but they hearken back to much earlier exemplars. The first authoritative collection, known as the Zhouyi, was composed in the Western Zhou period, 1046-771 BCE. An expanded version of this text was “canonized” by royal decree in 136 BCE, deemed as a classic under the authority of Confucian tradition. In the modern era, archaeology has turned up many early witnesses to the text, largely from ancient tombs. These have spurred new assessments of the textual tradition.
In the modern era the I Ching has met varied fates. It came under sharp criticism at the hands of the Chinese “Doubting Antiquity Movement” of the 1920s. Mao Zedong banned the text, at times. During the Cultural Revolution the use of the I Ching for divination was widely regarded as a superstitious, “feudal” practice. Yet by the 1980s and 1990s a popular movement called “Yijing Fever” widely introduced new mass populations to the I Ching. There is also a survey of the reception of the I Ching in the West, from Christian missionaries encountering the work in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, to C. G. Jung’s engagement of the text, to the I Ching’s (dubious, perhaps?) status as a countercultural icon.
The book gives special attention to the role of women in the I Ching, especially the subordination of the feminine in the traditional Chinese yin/yang duality. There are also valuable chapters on the cosmology and ethical principles of the I Ching. The book closes with an extensive “Readers Guide” to the I Ching, describing the standard translations of the work, bilingual editions, concordances and reference works, online versions of the I Ching, and other digital resources. There is also a working orientation to the structure of the text, with instructions on how to consult the I Ching, should one wish to pose a question to this ancient, still vital text.
Making Sense in Religious Studies A Student's Guide to Research and Writing, 2nd Edition
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
This second edition, like the first, is part of a series of volumes directed towards beginning college students. Margot Northey is the first author of each volume, including the eighth edition of the general Making Sense: A Student’s Guide to Research and Writing, and there is considerable overlap among the different volumes that focus on specific subject areas. Distinctive to this book is a short chapter, “Getting to Know Religious Studies,” and the incorporation of examples from the study of religion into many of the other nineteen chapters. Nonetheless, the focus is primarily on those general processes of thinking and self-expression that are common to many college courses. Because it does not focus narrowly on a specific area of the undergraduate study of religion, this book could easily be recommended, or even required, reading in virtually any course. Some instructors might find some of the advice to be too elementary, but there is helpful material for almost any student, including chapters on “Common Errors in Grammar and Usage,” “Punctuation,” and “Misused Words and Phrases,” as well as a glossary. Since scholarship on religion uses a variety of ways of documenting research, the chapter that outlines the requirements of the Chicago, MLA, and APA systems of reference and charts the differences among them could be especially helpful to beginning students.
Throughout the book, the authors urge students to think of themselves as “engaged learners” who aim to make the most of their education by taking careful notes, seeking out their teachers, preparing for writing assignments well in advance, and using feedback on their work to identify both strengths on which they can capitalize and weaknesses that need to be remedied. Consequently, the portrait of the ideal students to whom the book is addressed may strike some as insufficiently tempered by the harsh realities of sporadic attendance, bored indifference, and atrocious time management with which so many teachers in higher education are familiar. Nevertheless, the authors offer concrete advice and some step-by-step procedures that can help any student move towards becoming the type of engaged learner that they envisage and who many would love to have in their classes.
The focus of this volume is squarely on writing, with more than half of the chapters devoted to some aspect of the writing process, including writing essays (with a separate chapter on comparative essays), writing book reports and book and article reviews, writing essays for tests, and “Writing with Style.” Complementary chapters address finding and using appropriate sources and documenting them properly. Although the book briefly discusses reading religious texts, teachers who are looking for guidelines about how to introduce students to the kind of careful, patient, analytical reading of texts, objects, films, field observations, and other sources frequently used in the study of religion will need to look elsewhere. Nonetheless, this is a book that could be helpful to many teachers of religious studies.