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A matter of faith: Unique web site launched on religion and life

A unique new multimedia web site that examines religion and life has been launched by University of Toronto Scarborough humanities professor Robert Campbell. 

The site is a web documentary that features testimonials and interviews with students, and it is believed to be the first to showcase how faith affects people in their daily lives.

An expert in world religions, Campbell has launched Religion and Life with the support of Michael Murphy-Boyer, an Instructional Multimedia Designer in Information & Instructional Technology Services (IITS) on the Scarborough campus. To see and hear the Religion and Life web site, go to reel.utsc.utoronto.ca/religionandlife

The site features multimedia interviews with six students from the U of T Scarborough campus, representing different faiths: Muslim, Sikh, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, and Sai Baba, a religion that originates in India.

The first people to view the site are the more than 1,000 students enrolled in Campbell’s undergraduate classes, Religious Traditions of the East and West.

“I can teach about the history and major characteristics of different religions to my class, but that is not how people experience religion,” Campbell says. “The academic side of religion is just not the same as the lived experience. This web site enables us to hear from individuals and how they experience their faith in a remarkably human and highly culturally mediated way. Viewers can hear directly from believers of that faith and learn more from them. It’s almost like a conversation with these university students about the ways in which religion affects their daily life.”

The site was developed in order to educate people about other religions. “The point is to break down barriers of intolerance,” says Campbell. “It is a broad teaching tool that is not just academic, but experiential. Viewers can really get a sense of how committed these young people are to their religion, and just how much of their daily attention and focus goes into it.”

The web site is more immediate and personal than a book, according to Campbell and Murphy-Boyer. They are introducing students to new religions through a vehicle that marries ancient faiths with modern technology. “The web is the way we can deliver a message, and the technology does not get in the way, because this site feels like a conversation, not a presentation,” says Murphy-Boyer.

Religion and Life features interviews with students about how their faith affects their lives on a daily basis. Campbell notes that the six religions are just the beginning, and he would like to receive funding to expand the site to other religions.  “We recognize that we are just scratching the surface, and that we have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities,” he says. “We are thrilled that the grant we received has enabled us to begin this process, but we would love to cover many more religions.”

Campbell received from the university a Teaching Enhancement Grant (TEG) to help him teach about religion in daily life. Murphy-Boyer interviewed the students and designed the site.

Campbell notes that the web site has huge educational and social potential. Many students are curious about the religions of their classmates, he adds, and the site allows them to hear directly from followers.

 “When I took World Religions in university, everyone in the class was white and Christian,” says Campbell. “Everything else we studied was ‘The Other’.” He notes that now, in a multicultural and multifaith environment on the U of T Scarborough campus, “There is nothing I can raise that doesn’t attach to at least one person in the class in some way.”

What is striking about the testimonials is how prevalent faith can be in the lives of many students, says Murphy-Boyer. “When I was growing up, I went to church once a week and then didn’t think about religion for the rest of the week,” he says. “For many of these young people, though, the presence of religion in their minds and in their daily lives is huge. They make everyday decisions and life plans based on their religion, and they take their faith into consideration on issues that many of us would not.”

The level of commitment to faith was very strong among the students interviewed, said Murphy-Boyer. “I was very impressed with how dedicated the students were to their religion and how at peace they were with the choices they had made in their lives,” he said.

Students who have viewed the site had positive things to say. “I watched the interviews and I loved it so much that I have forwarded it to my family,” said student Vincent Lee.

- by Mary Ann Gratton





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