Jesus in Scripture and Tradition

Background

Jesus in Scripture and Tradition was what some people might call a no-brainer for Notre Dame. We were interested in producing a religious course as a part of the first set of MOOCs to be released by the University, and while the Theology faculty at Notre Dame are all stellar in their own rights, two professors stood out for this project: Gary Anderson and John Cavidini. Gary brought to the project a strong background in the Old Testament and Jewish influence on the beginnings of Christianity, while John Cavadini is an expert on the Catholic church. These areas blended well in a course that covered the history and meaning of the New Testament Israel, the life and teachings of Jesus, and the manifestation of the relationship between Jesus and Christian in the Church. 

The Challenge

The challenge lie in making a course digestible to a potentially non-Christian or non-theologically educated public, that was both rooted in the academic study of the subject, and enjoyable to those who also may have come with Christian/Catholic backgrounds. Could we make something for everyone in a time when culture and religious tensions appear to be more successful at dividing people instead of uniting them? 

The Process

We started with all of the right elements - two reputable and hard-working faculty, two talented graduate students, and a production team of a learning designer, producer, creative director, videographers, and editors. The fundamental goals were in place early. The first was to create a course, a space, where the study of the text could take place without the discourse breaking down to disagreements, regardless of how friendly, of “well, I disagree” or “I interpret it differently” and instead lead people to an understanding of the history of the bible and Catholic church, topics that are rooted more firmly in evidence and fact. The second was to create a course or a space where people could engage in the texts and commentary from the faculty in a real and personal way, where real spiritual development could occur.  

The Results

We worked to meet the goals by presenting content in the context of citation both from the Bible itself and historical and religious research. To best meet the varying levels of familiarity with theological study, each section had two discussion forums that students could opt into - one more general and of a lighter tone, the second more academically rigorous, that drew upon academic readings and text excerpts for substantiation. Throughout the sections of the course there were prompts for students to engage privately and personally with the spiritual challenges and experiences presented in the Bible and then also to share those reflections with others - to talk about implications of morals and lessons as they might apply in a modern world. The exchanges among students and teaching team were powerful - bringing students from all parts of the world, all educational and spiritual backgrounds together led to engaging and respectful dialog in the course. 

Over 8,000 students took Jesus in Scripture and Tradition during its original offering in June 2015. The course has remained available on the edX platform for students to take as a self-paced course, and since launching on edX, a total of over 12,000 students have taken Jesus in Scripture and Tradition. 

Testimonial

“I found it a real joy to work with the ODL team.  The emphasis was clearly on making the course as good as it possibly could be and leaving the faculty member with the least amount of responsibility for all the technical sides of the endeavor.  I was very satisfied with the final product and compared to the experience of colleagues of mine at other institutions, I think that I was treated very well in the process.” -- Prof. Gary Anderson