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Mixtape as secret syllabus

Posted in: General,Practices by Rachel Bundang on May 1, 2011

Fellow blogger Gina wrote the other day about using music to teach theology.  I have done this before– a sort of teaching via mixtape, so that the music I played in class was almost like a secret syllabus. Whether for my intro to theology course, the several iterations of my “Faith, Poverty, & Justice” course , or any of the others, I lay this out by asking myself:

  1. what I want students to learn from the course,
  2. what music would best communicate that, and
  3. how these connect with the readings or other textual engagements.

The music was purposely not all rock; it crossed periods and genres so that students could see the universality or persistence of the issues covered. Some of my favorite matches are:

  • Stephen Foster’s “Hard Time Come Again No More” re: relentless suffering (covered repeatedly by everyone from Johnny Cash to Renee Fleming, but my current favorite version is by Mavis Staples)
  • Lauryn Hill’s “Final Hour” re: righteous living, final judgment, and eschatological questions
  • the Flaming Lips cover of Iron & Wine’s “Waiting for a Superman” re: solidarity
  • JS Bach’s Cantata no. 82 “Ich habe genug” re: what it really means to have enough
  • old-time labor union songs or Lila Downs’ medley of “This Land Is Your Land/Pastures of Plenty“ re: basic human dignity + worker justice in the context of border issues.

Rachel Bundang
NYC