It's Not Religion 101; Flagler Course Field Trips Give Students New Dimension

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

They ate in silence at a monastery in South Carolina. They traipsed through a theme park called Holy Land in Orlando. And they listened to an architect describe the convent chapel surrounding them in St. Augustine.

This is not quite Religion 101. It's actually REL440A: Sacred Space and Structure, an experimental course offered at Flagler College for the first time this summer.

Religion professor Timothy Johnson created the course to prepare eight of his nine students for a trip to Rome and Assisi this month.

Educators should take students outside of the classroom more often for learning experiences, Johnson said.

"It moves education beyond memorizing and giving rote answers," said Johnson, who will visit Dresden, Germany, in 2004 as a Fulbright scholar. "People learn more when more of their senses are involved."

Karl Gardner, who took the course, just graduated from Flagler with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religion. He said the field trips allow him to learn more and remember better.

"It adds enjoyment," said Gardner, who is from Bradenton. "It adds the experiential factor; being able to go and see things is a whole new dimension."

Gardner noticed how the monastery's structure at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina portrayed the monks' purpose.

"Most monasteries are set up into a square, set apart from the rest of the world, kind of closed off" because the monks are cloistered, he said. But the monks they visited interact with the outside community, and their monastery illustrated that by being open on one side.

Meg McDonald is a philosophy and religion major who graduates after the summer term. She said the trips make the Sacred Space course unique.

"Most of the time what we learn is kept inside the classroom," she said. "This makes things more real."

Architect and Catholic nun Barbara Cekosh told students last week of the rhythmic nature of the wooden columns adorning the chapel walls in the Sisters of St. …