University Initiative—Feedback from Bahá’í Theology Course
Faculty: Mikhail Sergeev, Ian Kluge
Karen Webb, from Centerville, Utah, is taking Bahá’í Theology for credit. We asked her for feedback on how the course has been going so far. Here are her thoughts.—THE EDITORS
Bahá’í Theology is the first Wilmette Institute course I’ve taken for credit—graduate credit, no less. I was applying to a program that will accept WI classes as part of a student’s curriculum and wanted to try one class at this level to see if I could still compete in the world of academia. I went in scared to death that I would crash and burn!
WI Instructors. I’ve been especially happy with the instructors: how easy it is to reach them, and how they keep up on the forums, responding quickly to everyone’s posts and questions. My mind boggles at what Misha and Ian know between them and how generously they share that knowledge and their time. This class has 11 students and not all care to post their thoughts on a regular basis. Some classes I’ve taken have had more like 40 students in them with many being pretty active in the interactive forums. In that situation, I don’t know how the instructors keep up!
For students considering taking this specific course: especially if you’re considering taking it for credit, know that it is driven more by philosophy than mysticism. At least two of us were into things like the Tablet of All Food and the 5 heavens/kingdoms/paradises described in that tablet, and how that information integrated with the idea that God’s first emanation is the Kingdom. Both instructors were very up front about mysticism not being their thing. That’s not a bad thing, because a course that inspires you (and, for me, the content here does) is a course that will make you want to seek outside for answers. (I did.)
Background readings. In my case, since I never had a course in Plato, having the underpinnings of classical Greek philosophy addressed in the first few units was of more benefit than I initially realized it would be. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s proofs of the existence of God and other theological/ philosophical concepts of this sort He explains using language and symbols specific to that school of philosophy. I used to throw up my hands in desperation when I tried to read the Tablet to Auguste Forel—but last week I was able to read it start to finish thanks to the background this class provided.
Excellent videos. The course simulates contact time by providing 3-4 videos for every unit, 2 of which are from the “Crash Course” Philosophy videos you can find on YouTube. These are truly inspired—love’em! They are boutique videos, little 10 minute blurbs on some manageable element of philosophy. They’re titled things like “Neo, meet Rene [Descartes]” Writing is vivid, as is the presentation (not sure if he’s a philosopher or an actor, but his presentation is quick, lovely, well-written, and gives you food for thought.) Very simple but very effective animations help to explain concepts. Other videos are of varying lengths, and there is usually one each week that’s in the neighborhood of an hour followed by questions. They do not always reflect completely the topic of the week, but I’ve learned from them all.
Reflection papers. I’ve noticed the weekly “reflection” papers in some courses have a specific fill-in-the-blank format, while the one for this class is a little more free form, and I could see where this might be daunting for very new college freshmen or high school students seeking college credit, so just a caveat there. One other thing I’ve noticed overall with Wilmette Institute classes is the instructors can have very different approaches to the final project (which you are encouraged to do even if you’re not taking the class for credit, but they can be as simple as giving a talk on some part of what you’ve learned). Some want you to know what you want to do from day 1, some let you develop it slowly.
Taking a WI course NOT for credit shouldn’t be scary, but I know some potential learners shy away. Let me emphasize that you set your own learning plan and your own goals at the beginning of each course, so if you have, say, only minutes a day to devote to a class, that is OK. Set that goal.
A wealth of material. Every course posts a wealth of material that stays put on the course page for at least a year, so you can download and peruse it at your leisure if you find you don’t even have that few minutes a day. And it is a wealth of material: book chapters, tablets, compilations, videos, in some cases tablets that have only provisional translations. And they become yours to keep. Plus each class comes with a built-in online learning community so students can ask questions and learn from one another.
Overall, for me, Bahá’í Theology has been great: great teachers, great and thoughtfully collated readings, so far a great experience!
The Institute is offering two college level courses in the Fall. For more information see Taking WI Courses for College Credit. Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind (09/05/19)’ The Bahá’í Faith: A Comprehensive Introduction (09/15/19)