Beyond the Lonely Learner: Towards an Autoethnographic Method in Studying and Researching Religion
Keywordseducation, autoethnography, reflective learning, humanistic education, divided-life, integrated life
Being a learner can be lonely and isolating. The academic culture in the UK can leave an individual feeling segregated and alienated both from their peers and, importantly, from their authentic selves, as they scrabble to have their voices heard in an ever-segregating and performative environment. This can detract from a good learning experience, particularly in subjects like religious studies which require a multi-focal approach to learning. Humanistic education theory recognises the need for mutuality and friendship. The theory grew from humanistic psychologists who placed ‘I’ at the centre of education practices, and led to the rise of Critical Reflection as a means of self-development in many fields of study. This has, in turn, given rise to an increase in self-awareness in learners with the capacity for endless improvement. But it can leave the individual feeling disengaged from their holistic self, as personal and academic learning are separated, with a sense of fragmentation between the subject material and the personal meaning for the individual. So, are there other ways to approach learning which incorporate both the self and the subject matter in a more holistic way? This paper proposes that one possible solution is to develop an autoethnographical approach which allows the individual to engage in the subject material while seeking his/her own truths in those materials. The core ideals of autoethnography allow this by connecting ‘personal (insider) experience, insights and knowledge to larger (relational, cultural, political) conversations, contexts and conventions’ in order to create ‘nuanced, complex, and specific accounts of personal/cultural experience’ (Adams et al., 2015, p. 25). The author will challenge canonical ways of conducting research by exploring the possibility of using autoethnography as a means of cultivating dialogue with a learning community, a body of knowledge and with the self, to develop a method for learning religion which allows for a holistic and integrative approach to the individual’s own self-understanding, and helps alleviate the loneliness of the learner through learning in ways that are congruent with core values and ideals.
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