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Faith and Action

Dr. Demetrius Semien, Spring Hill College (Mobile, AL)

Shared with Permission1

In 2018, Dr. Demetrius Semien participated in a Teaching Interfaith Understanding faculty development seminar, run in partnership between the Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith Youth Core, and generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. For information on future seminars, and to access more resources created by seminar alumni, visit

Course Description

A Jesuit education strives for the pursuit of knowledge and willingness to change by means of an open heart and an open mind. This course draws upon the disciplines of Sociology and Theology to discern the connection between faith and social change. How does religion impact the social changes that have made the world it is today?  How will faith continue to shape our society in the future? This class explores how humans as social actors draw upon religious (or non-religious) beliefs to transform social environments. Students learn about how faith has inspired social actions through the writings of people of faith who participated in significant social changes. While students are expected to understand and reflect on the assigned readings, each student will also be encouraged to reflect on how his/her own beliefs and actions could lead to social change. We will also view films and feature guest speakers to allow students to learn about historic social movements.  From a Sociological and Theological perspective, students will examine how social interactions between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other faiths transform our world.

Spring Hill College Core Course Learning Objectives

  • Inquiry and analysis: the systematic process of developing questions and exploring issues or works through the analysis of evidence, resulting in informed conclusions or judgments.
  • Critical reading and thinking: reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language; thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.
  • Oral communication: a prepared, purposeful presentation described to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors.

Course Objectives

Upon completing this course, you will have developed a better understanding of:

  • How societies have been and are shaped by various faith traditions.
  • How people’s relationships with and understanding of “God” has influenced their social activism.
  • Basic theories, concepts and methods used in sociological analyses of religions.
  • Religious art, rituals and texts that have inspired social actions to alleviate human suffering.
  • How race, class, gender, and religions intersect.
  • How to be an effective member of society in your professional and personal life.

Course Texts

  • Wiesenthal, Simon. 1969. The Sunflower. New York: Schocken Books.
  • Malcolm X and Alex Haley. 1964. Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballatine Book.
  • Cone, James. 1991. Martin and Malcolm in America. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
  • Bender, Courtney. 2003. Heaven’s Kitchen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lerner, Michael and Cornel West. 1995.  Jews & Blacks. New York: Penguin Books.

Course Requirements

  • Class Participation & Attendance – Please see Course Expectations, Preparing for Class & Attendance Policy.
  • Quizzes and In-Class Writing Exercises – You will have a quiz or in-class essay writing exercise almost every class period on reading materials and lecture notes presented in the course. These quizzes will help you evaluate your own performance and give you the opportunity to seek help early in the term if you are having problems. You may use your Reading Notes. Your lowest score will be dropped.
  • Reading Notes – This assignment will fulfill the Inquiry and Analysis and Critical Thinking and Reading learning outcomes as students reflect on course readings.
  • “Malcolm X” Movie Reflection and Analysis Paper – You will view the full-length feature movie “Malcolm X” either on your own or during a public viewing for the class. Then, you will write a reflection and analysis paper on the film.  I will give you a handout to guide you. (3-4 pgs)
  • Co-Facilitation Assignment – This assignment will allow students to deliver an oral presentation.
  • Faith in Action Field Assignment – You will interview a person about connections between his or her faith perspective and community or social activism.  I will provide a handout to guide you. (3-4pgs)

Preparing for Class

  • If you find a current newspaper or magazine article that you feel is relevant to this course, please bring it to my attention – clip the article and bring it in if you wish.
  • During class, we will discuss key concepts in pairs or teams of students. This strategy is known as cooperative learning. You will be expected to actively participate.  
  • Please contribute ideas and listen to others attentively.  
  • A lot of what we will cover may provoke some feelings or raise challenging thoughts or questions. Processing these feelings, questions, and thoughts in class will require tolerance and patience. Let’s work together to make the class a safe environment where everyone may express themselves honestly.    

Teaching Methods

  • Lectures employ many teaching methods, such as pair work, film clips, and class dialogues.  
  • Cooperative learning will be facilitated thru in-class reflection papers and small group activities.
  • You are expected to participate regularly in class discussions.  During the semester, you will be called upon regularly by the instructor to offer your view or understanding of the course material or readings.   

Course Performance Assessment

Class Attendance and Participation – 10%
Quizzes and In-Class Writing Exercises – 20%            
Reading Notes – 40%
“Malcolm X” Movie Reflection and Analysis Paper – 10%
Co-Facilitation Assignment – 10%
Faith in Action Field Assignment  – 10%    

Assignment Descriptions

Co-Facilitation Guidelines  

During the course, you and a partner will co-facilitate 1 class this semester. You will present for 15-20 minutes on an issue that highlights how a faith tradition has inspired people to participate in social actions or a social movement. You will base your co-facilitation on an academic journal article of your choice. Beforehand, you and your partner will submit a co-facilitation proposal. Each person should have equal time during your co-facilitation.

Be clever, creative, and original. For your presentation, you may interview other students or community members, act out skits, survey your classmates, etc. We have access to a VCR, DVD, and a computer in the classroom; feel free to use them during your co-facilitation.  

Your main task is to discuss the important points from the journal article reading and show how they connect to larger issues we cover in class. Please note that 20 minutes is a short amount of time. Your grade will reflect how well you use your time. You may visit the Learning Center for tips on presenting and facilitating discussions. Each of you will hand in your own “self-evaluation.” It is due 2 days after the co-facilitation and should be 2-3 pages long.

Your paper will answer the following 7 questions. Keep these questions in mind as you prepare your presentation. Your self-evaluation and co-facilitate will be much more effective if you reflect throughout the process.  

  1. Include 2-3 paragraphs that discuss the main points of the article and how they relate to issues we study in class.
  2. Discuss 2 points from the article that you tried to emphasize during your presentation. What other concepts from the readings or from class did you hope to highlight? Please be specific here.  
  3. How did you use the co-facilitation’s structure/approach and content to achieve this goal?
  4. What steps did you take to engage your peers in dialogue?
  5. In what ways was your presentation successful? What could have gone better?
  6. What did each of you contribute to the co-facilitation? Did you work together? Why or why not?    
  7. What did you learn as you prepared and delivered your co-facilitation?

I will use these same questions in my evaluation of your co-facilitation. Each self-evaluation will be returned with my comments and your grade on the entire co-facilitation. Team members' grades may differ to reflect individual work on the self-evaluations and varying contributions to the co-facilitation. If you’d like to meet with me during office hours, I’m happy to discuss your ideas. Please come with a solid plan that you can discuss with me and come at least two class periods before your presentation date.

Reading Notes

  1. Please use the following course guidelines for Reading Notes assignments:
  2. Reading Notes are due at the beginning of EVERY class.
  3. Reading Notes MUST be typed, printed and turned in after each day’s quiz or in-class essay.
  4. I will NOT accept make-up work.
  5. Reading Notes should be no more than 5 pages.  
  6. Make Reading Notes as thorough as you need; you may use them during quizzes or essays.

Please note the following requirements for writing your Reading Notes:

  1. Write a brief summary of the reading selection (5-6 sentences for overall summaries). For assignments with specific chapters, a brief summary is due for EACH chapter (3-4 sentences per chapter).
  2. Offer key terms or concepts discussed and the author’s definitions/explanations for them (1/2pg -1pg).
  3. Explain how you think the reading selection may connect with the “Faith in Action” Theme (1-2 paragraphs).
  4. Offer 3 quotes (w/ pg #’s) you found interesting for whatever reason and explain why you chose it (1/2pg -1 pg).
  5. Generate 2 questions for small group discussion or class dialogue.
  6. Offer any questions, comments, or concerns about the reading selection or the course in general you want me to highlight, explain, cover in my lecture, or have the class discuss.
  7. Add any additional notes you feel you need to prep for the quizzes or in-class essays.

I know that 2 and 6 may not always be able to be addressed. Complete Reading Notes will ALWAYS include 1, 3, 4 and 5 (and usually 2).

Course Schedule

Class meets every day for 4 weeks

Jewish and Christian Perspectives and Acts of Forgiveness: The Holocaust

Week 1:


  • Introductions
  • Documentary Film on the Holocaust
  • Read: The Sunflower – Book One


  • Faith and the Holocaust    
  • Read: The Sunflower – Complete the Story and Read Responses in Book Two: The Symposium
  • Reading Notes: for part A, summarize 20 responses; use Story and 20 Responses for B-G

Faith and the Civil Rights Movement


  • Read: Civil Rights: The 1960’s Freedom Struggle, Ch.1-3
  • Read: Souls of Black Folk, Ch. 1
  • Reading Notes: For part A, summaries for all four chapters; all apply for B-G


  • Documentary Film: “Eyes on the Prize”
  • HW: Civil Rights: The 1960’s Freedom Struggle, Ch.4-6
  • Reading Notes


  • Art of Protest – Civil Rights website – Listen to the Voices
  • “Malcolm X” Movie Reflection and Analysis Handout Given
  • Read: Civil Rights: The 1960’s Freedom Struggle, Ch.7-8
  • Read: “The Civil Rights Movement”, Jews and Blacks (Lerner and West)
  • Read: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr.
  • Reading Notes

Week 2:


  • Read: Civil Rights: The 1960’s Freedom Struggle, Ch.9-1
  • Read: “Re-Entry Partners” (Semien)
  • Reading Notes


  • Due: Name of Faith in Action Field Respondent to be Interviewed  
  • Read: Autobiography of Malcolm X, Introduction and Ch.1-6
  • Reading Notes

Black Muslims in the U.S.: Nationalism or Unity?


  • Meet with Co-Facilitation Partner(s) in the Library
  • Read: Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ch.7-13
  • Reading Notes


  • Due: Co-Facilitation Proposal – with journal article
  • Faith in Action Field Handout Given    
  • Read: Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ch.14-18
  • Reading Notes


  • Read: Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ch.19, Alex Haley: Epilogue, Ossie Davis: On Malcolm X
  • Read: “Black Nationalism,” Jews and Blacks
  • Read: Martin and Malcolm in America, Introduction and Ch.1-2
  • Read: Reading Notes
  • Public Showing of “Malcolm X” from 2-5pm (Location TBA)   

African American Christians and Muslims in Dialogue

Week 3:


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – No Class


  • Student Presentations
  • Due: “Malcolm X” Movie Reflection and Analysis Paper  
  • Read: Martin and Malcolm in America, Ch.3-4        
  • Reading Notes


  • Student Presentations
  • Read: Martin and Malcolm in America, Ch.5-6        
  • Reading Notes


  • Student Presentations
  • Read: Martin and Malcolm in America, Ch.7-8        
  • Reading Notes


  • Student Presentations    
  • Read: Martin and Malcolm in America, Ch.9-12
  • Read: “Strategies for Reconciliation and Healing” & “Grounds for Hope” from Jews & Blacks
  • Handout: Muslims in U.S. Post 9/11
  • Reading Notes

Jews, Christians, and Muslims: Acts of Reconciliation

Week 4:


  • King and Malcolm X – Wrap Up; Lessons for Today’s Wars?
  • Student Presentations
  • Due: Faith in Action Field  
  • Read: Heaven’s Kitchen, Ch.1-3    
  • Reading Notes


  • Student Presentations
  • Read: Heaven’s Kitchen, Ch. 4-5        
  • Reading Notes

Faith and Service: Acts of Compassion


  • Student Presentations
  • Read: Heaven’s Kitchen, Ch.6 and conclusion    
  • Reading Notes


  • Student Presentations
  • HW: Faith in Action – Reflection Essay


  • Last Day of Class – “Faith in Action” Wrap-up Session


1In consultation with the author, this syllabus has been edited for length, removing details particular to the author’s context such as office hours and location, absence policies, honor codes, and other instructor-specific (or institution-specific) details.