Technology: Not Just for Technical Fields Anymore

by Dr. Jim Caccamo, Department of Theology and Religious Studies

For better or for worse, the humanities have the reputation of being more interested in the past than the present. And for good reason. As a historian of religion friend of mine likes to say, “some of my best friends are dead people.”

Yet, just because we humanities faculty hold the work of previous centuries in high esteem, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t on the cutting edge of using tech in teaching and research.

Case in point: Living Worship (Brazos Press, 2011), a work that I recently co-authored with Dr. Todd Johnson (of Fuller Theological Seminary) and Dr. Lester Ruth (of Duke University), published by. Living Worship is multimedia case study of the worship life of a real-life Christian congregation in Chicago. It is a kind of interactive software “textbook” on Christian worship.

Living Worship is a computer-based case study of eighteen months in the worship life of an actual church. The interactive application features a host of media documenting the worship life of Ravenswood Covenant Church (RCC), including more than twenty hours of video of worship services and service planning meetings, video interviews with church ministers and members, texts on the church’s history and development, sociological data on the community and neighborhood, images of historical documents and the surrounding environment, and scans of church bulletins and brochures. There are also on-camera interviews with leading experts in liturgy. The video portions capture a wide array of events in the church’s life, including a wedding, a funeral, an Advent service, and an Easter service. For most of the services, viewers can even switch back and forth between several camera angles (such as wide shots, close-ups, and views of the congregation) on the fly.

Living Worship provides a new way to study Christian liturgy. Traditionally, students focus on reading theological and historical texts. But due to logistical and scheduling issues, courses aren’t always able to see the way that the ideas they study play out in real life. Who wants to do a field trip on Sunday morning? Living Worship opens up this lived reality of community worship by enabling what we call “virtual participant observation”: using technology to closely observe a community as it tries to embody its beliefs in its public worship. Exploring the program, students can see the practical implications of theology as they examine how theological commitments and pragmatic choices play out in the real world setting. It provides a window into liturgy that history and theology can’t provide. And it is entirely unique in the field.

Living Worship also includes a second disc, Speaking of Worship. SoW is a standard video DVD with short interview segments from leading scholars on vital—even controversial—issues and questions related to worship. It is designed to be used in the classroom setting, providing 1-2 minute interview segments that can be used as supplements for lectures or as conversation starters.

So, even though we love our books, it turns out that the faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences are also at the forefront of using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

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