In Paradise with Contemplative Pedagogy: A Journey
With Dante in Heaven: A Contemplative Journey is a course that I devised and taught in the Italian Studies Department at Vassar College in the spring of 2016. The course focused on Paradise, the third canticle of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri; it was cross-listed with the Department of Religion, and taught in English. Thirty students (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) with different backgrounds and majors, enrolled in this course. During this course, I introduced the students to free-writing, deep listening exercises, yoga-based deep breathing exercises, and vocal improvisation. Students felt that the practices contributed to a feeling of relaxation, focus, and overall ease in the classroom, and that some of the exercises allowed them to overcome personal and academic obstacles in subjects other than the humanities.
This reflective paper describes the course design, the uses and outcomes of classroom exercises, and the relationship between the study of the primary text (referred to as the Comedy in the rest of this paper) and the development of the class’s learning environment. The students’ self-reported experiences demonstrate how contemplative pedagogy can model a new way of teaching and learning that honors students’ personal experiences and backgrounds when approaching a classic piece of literature.
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