“If Martin Luther were alive today…” (IDS 101, Winter 2017)

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“If Martin Luther were alive today…” (IDS 101, Winter 2017)

By Mary Vetter

In 1517 Martin Luther circulated his Ninety-Five Theses. In this disputation, Luther argued that a number of practices of the Medieval Church – one of the most powerful institutions of the time – discouraged Christians from true inner spiritual repentance and, by extension, from actions that would address critical social issues of the time, for example, acts of mercy towards the poor. Specifically he focused on the sale of indulgences, the purchase of which could relieve punishment for sins and Jesus’ call to a life of repentance, service, and justice could be ignored.

“Interdisciplinary Studies: Contemporary Issues” (IDS 101) is a class offered each winter semester at Luther College at the University of Regina (LCUR). It is team taught and examines a number of complex contemporary issues that are interdisciplinary in nature and can be directly addressed by the development and application of agency: our ability to pursue and achieve that which we value in a challenging and changing world.

In 2017 the course involved the following LCUR faculty members: Dr. A. Brenda Anderson (Women and Gender Studies, Religious Studies), Dr. F. Volker Greifenhagen (Religious Studies), Dr. Roger Petry (Philosophy), and Dr. Mary Vetter (Biology; course facilitator).

We also made leadership a central topic of the course, using the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Because 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we used the complex issues being faced in Luther’s time as our first case study, before turning our attention to three topics:
    1. Identity and the relationship between Aboriginal and settler peoples in Canada;
    2. Welcoming newcomers to Canada (especially Muslim peoples) by understanding and valuing diversity; and
    3. Using the lens of sustainability and sustainable development to imagine our collective future in innovative ways (including support of the local foods movement).

The Protestant Reformation and each of the three complex issues examined in this IDS class were analyzed according to the following framework:

  • What is the critical issue?
  • What is the catalyst for change?
  • What are the new ideas, born of hope, to address the critical issue?
  • How can we work individually and collectively to implement these new ideas?

The table below summarizes the approach:
 

Critical issue

Catalyst for change

New ideas born of hope

Social Change Model of Leadership

Power of and corruption in the Medieval Church, disconnect between the Church and society (Dr. Yvonne Petry)

Sale of indulgences and the claim that forgiveness is available by doing good works, including the purchase of indulgences

Reminder of Jesus’ assurance that forgiveness is available freely to us through faith, and that we exhibit that faith through our good works

 

The relationship between Aboriginal and settler peoples in Canada (Dr. A. Brenda Anderson)

The legacy of residential schools, the continuing social and economic disparities between Aboriginal and settler peoples

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, learning opportunities such as the Blanket Exercise, learning and activism opportunities such as Project of Heart

Engaging Individual Values of Consciousness of Self, Congruence, and Commitment

Binaries and stereotypes that label others different from us (i.e. “mainstream” Canada) and set up barriers between “us” and “them” (Dr. F. Volker Greifenhagen)

Labeling Muslims as “terrorists”

Getting to know and engaging with “the other” on a personal level 

Engaging Group Values of Collaboration, Common Purpose, and Controversy with Civility

Aspects of our current lifestyle and economic choices

(Dr. Roger Petry, Dr. Mary Vetter)

Climate change, increasing economic disparity, and negative environmental impacts

Sustainable development and sustainable livelihoods, e.g. local food movement

Society/Community Value of Citizenship

 

Outside of class time, each student completed 12 hours of Community Service Learning (CSL), by volunteering in a local service agency or project such as Project of Heart. As a reflection on the course and their CSL experience – a kind of journal – each student interviewed someone who faces one of the three course topics in their everyday life, edited the interview, added images, and produced a digital story in the form of a three to five-minute video. One of these videos has been linked to this article, Taya Triffo, “Where do I fit in?”.

At the end of the semester we asked the students to write their own theses that identify complex contemporary issues, catalysts for change, and new ideas born of hope that can be addressed by specific leadership actions. The parallels with Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses are deliberate. As we discussed in class, avoiding personal actions of engagement using agency and leadership is easy to do, just as purchasing indulgences let the people of Luther’s time avoid personal commitment to addressing contemporary issues.

Theses for Today from the IDS 101 Winter 2017 students:

Critical issue

Catalyst for change

New ideas born of hope and how to implement these through the Social Change Model of Leadership (selections)

Citizens living on Reserves and in the inner city generally have less access to medical and educational services, and they experience a worse quality of life, when compared with those living in the suburbs or wealthier neighbourhoods

Municipal and Provincial governments that ignore this issue and focus instead, e.g., on a $2 billion bypass that services suburban communities while simultaneously cutting services that benefit less privileged people

Promote a more equitable division of financial resources at the Provincial and Municipal Levels through

  • Consciousness of self: recognize our position of privilege.
  • Commitment, Collaboration: Positive change requires consistent and dedicated effort, and people working together.
  • Controversy with Civility: People who benefit from current funding structures must hear the voices of those who do not benefit.
  • Citizenship: commitment to change.

Lack of resources for newcomers to Regina

Existence of the Regina Open Door Society and the work they do

More support for the Regina Open Door Society, including volunteers, through

  • Consciousness of self: recognize our ability to volunteer; recognize the value of education in our own lives.
  • Commitment: volunteer, and learn how to do this well!
  • Common purpose: remind Canadians that most of us are newcomers, and our shared values as Canadians require us to act accordingly to welcome diversity and newcomers.
  • Citizenship: citizenship depends on developing community; supporting newcomers encourages them to embrace their roles as citizens of Canada.

Garbage in public spaces around the City of Regina

Visibility of the garbage promotes an attitude of carelessness and resignation

Facilitate individual and municipal action through

  • Consciousness of self: educate people on the amount of garbage by collecting and displaying it in a public place.
  • Congruence: lead by personal action in cleaning up public spaces.
  • Citizenship: get the City to put out more garbage bins; organize volunteer groups to clean up areas on a weekly basis.

Religious isolationism that promotes misunderstandings and stereotypes

Our own or others’ stereotypes towards those practicing a religion other than ours/mine or practicing a religion at all

Education in the form of personal engagement to learn about each other through

  • Consciousness of self and Congruence: live up to the inclusiveness we claim as our Canadian identity.
  • Commitment: seek out welcoming interactions with strangers, e.g. at the supermarket.
  • Collaboration: bring multiple religious and cultural groups together in a shared space, and promote specific educational interactions.
  • Citizenship: to be a good citizen in a diverse nation, one must understand how to interact respectfully and appropriately with those diverse populations, e.g., develop cross-cultural skills and welcome others.

The size of Regina’s ecological footprint

The number of personal cars on the road and the lack of much public transit

Ban cars carrying one person on weekend evenings through

  • Consciousness of self: helping people realize how much they drive.
  • Congruence: promote fitness, support public transit.
  • Controversy with civility: allow personal cars much of the time, but ban them at other times.
  • Citizenship: build understanding through education; promote a rebate to cities, and to people who live in cities, that reduces their CO2 output.

Prejudice in Regina

Ignorance of diversity among many Regina citizens

Buy-in to and participation in effective educational programs, through

  • Consciousness of self: provide tools to people to help them recognize their ignorance and build commitment to change.
  • Congruence and commitment: help people build awareness and practices in their daily lives that eliminate ignorance and racism.
  • Collaboration and Common purpose: create opportunities for active listening to others.
  • Controversy with civility: build an atmosphere of honouring others, replacing fear and ignorance.
  • Citizenship: identify and work towards shared values; build individual accountability to these values. 

 

In summary, IDS 101 in Winter 2017 brought Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses into today’s context, showing us how complex, immense, seemingly insolvable issues through time have been challenged by new ideas born of hope. As has been the case throughout human history, each of us bears some personal responsibility for the social, economic, and environmental problems of our day. This responsibility can easily become overwhelming and produce resentment, helplessness, or despair. Specifically, we took small steps and developed leadership skills to implement change:

Thank you to the students and participating professors who made this year’s journey exciting, wondrous, and hopeful.