“Both in South Africa and at Stellenbosch University, we come from a divided past, which makes it vital for our teaching and curricula to be designed to cater for our students' diverse histories and different experiences of gender, culture, language and religion."
This is the hope and objective of Dr Anita Jonker and her colleagues at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. In 2018, the Faculty introduced a new interdisciplinary module “Gender, culture and religious diversity" with guest lecturers Prof Xolile Simon from the Department of Practical Theology and Missiology (Theology) and Dennis Francis from the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology (Arts and Social Sciences). The module is specifically designed for students in the Extended Degree Programme (EDP), who complete their first academic year over two years. This affords them the opportunity to receive extensive writing support and engage with enriched curriculum content so as to broaden their worldviews.
According to Jonker, EDP coordinator and lecturer, the aim of the module is to address the complexities of religion, gender and culture in society and help students develop into critical and creative thinkers in diverse environments.
“We want our students to know and respect one another's religious traditions and rituals, and at the same time develop the ability to read and listen critically. In the tutorials, students are encouraged to debate the content and form their own opinions based on the reading material, lectures, language support as well as their tutors and fellow students' contributions."
While only the 120 students in the first-year EDP group currently qualify to do the module, there have been several requests to present the course to a broader audience. The module is structured into three lectures and one tutorial per week. The first lecture is dedicated to English and Afrikaans in the humanities and the remaining two deal with subject-specific content.
This year's module has introduced students to key subject-specific concepts that appear in the prescribed reading material. These include the distinction between biological sex and gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality, as well as the key differences between transsexual and transgender people. To broaden students' understanding of diversity in religion, gender and culture, the module also incorporates out-of-class teaching and learning. Students are encouraged to visit places of worship that they are unfamiliar with, which Jonker regards as a crucial component of the module.
“Students must be able to engage in dialogue on the issues that the module raises, not only during the module but also long after they have completed it when they encounter different views on these matters among their friends and colleagues. Students from different religions or from atheist and agnostic backgrounds are also encouraged to visit places of worship that are unfamiliar to them. This helps them develop an understanding of the complexities of religious diversity, of the potential of intrareligious and interreligious dialogue to peacefully resolve conflict, and of the human dignity of women and the LGBTQIA community," Jonker says.
English/Afrikaans interpreters are used for all lectures, and as Prof Simon is an isiXhosa mother-tongue speaker, students are able to ask questions in any of the Western Cape's three official languages.
For more information on the module, contact Dr Anita Jonker at firstname.lastname@example.org.