Stewart, Piar (Religious Studies) Present In China

September 27, 2013

Carlos Piar (l) and David Tabb Stewart (r) with colleagues at Shanghai Museum.

Religious Studies Chair David Tabb Stewart knows where to look when he needs an emperor—China.

Stewart recently returned from the People’s Republic of China after his first sabbatical at CSULB that included four weeks hosting, along with Religious Studies’ Carlos Piar, workshops on university teaching and academic LARPs (live action role-playing games) to 350 scholars representing 41 campuses. They worked under the auspices of the Society for Values in Higher Education.

One of Stewart’s most successful teaching tools was “Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor” set during the Ming Dynasty in 1587. Candidates for the Dragon Throne included the grand-to-infinity-daughter of Confucius himself, participating as a representative of Qufu University in the city where Confucius was born.

“We were trying to expose future teachers and university faculty to different ways of teaching,” said Piar, who joined Religious Studies in 1990. “There is very much the Confucian tradition of a sage to whom the student listens respectfully. You really don’t question or challenge the authority of the teacher. As far as education goes, it’s really more authoritarian than traditional. What we were trying to do is expose them to student-centered learning. This way, students are more involved and engaged. They participate more. We used all kinds of techniques from seminar-type discussion to complex role-playing games such as `Reacting to the Past’ where students assume a role within a historical moment. The students must then argue for their position.”

A Ming Dynasty game such as “Wanli” needed Ming Dynasty experts and Stewart found two in his program, one from Guangzhou and another from Xi’an. “Participants were skeptical on Day One,” said Stewart, a member of the university since 2007. “By Day Two, they warmed up a little bit. By Day Four, they were saying we were the best thing since sliced bread. Their evaluations said things like ‘You are a breath of fresh air.’”

Adapted from Inside CSULB’s larger piece “Stewart, Piar Present In China”

Written by Richard Manly