Wednesday, August 8, 2007
"Take your family to a mosque or Hindu temple or synagogue this week. They need it and might learn something," reads the new bumper sticker that 44-year-old Dr. James Bowley recently designed for his green Nissan Sentra. Dr. Bowley, a native Nebraskan now in his fifth year as a religion professor at Millsaps College, professes and participates in this kind of interfaith dialogue both inside and outside the classroom.
At Millsaps, Bowley teaches courses ranging from classical Hebrew to the New Testament and early Christianity, to "Who Speaks for the God(s)?" On his Web site, Bowley explains that he is not really a teacher, but "a student—a student who gets paid. My real job is to ask questions about texts and religions and history and then to devise meaningful and enjoyable ways of exploring in the directions that those questions point."
His newest book, "Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel's Sacred Library" (Prentice Hall, 2007), is derived entirely from his classroom efforts to engage students on a personal, intellectual level.
"My students always hated the textbook, and I hated that they hated the textbook so I said … 'OK, I'm just going to write my own,'" he said. Bowley especially enjoys the challenge of teaching religion at a secular institution in the Bible Belt. He explains, "The difference is that initial wariness to question anything, or question the status quo at all … but once they get into it, they can engage, really, just as well."
Outside the classroom, Bowley is involved in social justice and interfaith work both on and off campus. He has organized programs about genocide in Darfur and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for Millsaps, and he is currently working with the State Holocaust Commission to develop an interdisciplinary holocaust education curriculum to be taught in Jackson Public Schools.
At Congregation Beth Israel, where Bowley, his wife and four children are members, Bowley participates in the Tikkun Olam "Repairing the World" committee and teaches adult education classes. He also teaches an adult education course each fall at St. James Episcopal Church in Fondren.
"I like things to be moved and to move my brains and to move other people's brains because the greatest force in the world is inertia," he says. "We get stuck and caught and just do the same things over and over—whether that's in religion or politics—as opposed to being open."
Check out Bowley's web site: http://home.millsaps.edu/bowleje