Employability Forum for Academic Partners

Enhancing a course: "Religion in the Public Sphere"

Jeremy Kidwell, Theology & Religion

Setting the Stage

2 Intertwined Problems

  1. (your parents worry that) humanities study isn't 'career friendly'
  2. (some) philosophers neglect "grounding" in real world contexts

The Context

Department of Theology & Religion Course
"Religion in the Public Sphere"

Course Structure:

  • critical theory of religion (wks 1-5)
  • religion in public policy contexts (wks 6-20)
  • assessment = essay + "policy projects"

Assessing Course Year 1

  • Student policy projects take on "big ideas"
  • presentations are expansive and exploratory
  • There's a need for more focus to enable synthetic (and contextual) learning

A new approach

From "blue sky" to...

...Real world problems

Implementation and Planning

  • Identify shortlist of 5 employers with religion and public policy engagement
  • Set up point of contact and communications protocols
  • Establish brief, work to be completed towards student "menu" of options
  • Ask employers for relevant reading material (whitepapers,reports, etc.)
  • Plan towards long-horizon relationship, Connect employers with one another


  • Revise handbook: identify skills objectives
  • Monitor student progress / experience through journalling (transferrability!)
  • Students "apply" for project placements
  • Work is in teams
  • Each student chooses to conduct a specific kind of "personal research" in the organisation
  • Policy project submitted individually

Critical Self-Reflection

Implemented in canvas via 8 timed "prompts"

1. What are your impressions of your organisation? How are the early dynamics of your team? (wk5)

2. What skills do you want to develop (as an individual) as a result of your work on the policy project? What do you think will be your role in the project team? (wk3)

3. What are your impressions of your organisation? How are the early dynamics of your team? (wk5)

4. Please specify a timeline of intended work for your project. Work backwards from submission of your individual policy projects in April and your group presentations in Jan-Mar) to the briefings in week 5...

5. Share about what you have discovered in your individual research work for your policy project team. What have been some of your struggles to date on the project? What have been some of your achievements so far?

6. Review your reflection (2). Since beginning the project last Fall, what have you learned about your employer and the context behind the project brief? How have your impressions changed?

7. Review your reflection (1). Since beginning the project last Fall, what new skills have you developed? What new things did you learn in your exit-interview with the organisation?

8. Reflect on what you have accomplished in working on your policy project. What is the significance of your project results? Given further time, what more could you have done? What suggestions do you have for future research that could take this project further?

Individualising Assessment

Handbook excerpt

Your policy project write-up should include the following elements (with the following rough indications of words to be included):

(1) Overview. Provide an introduction to your organisation that may be accessible to a lay-reader and include details of the brief you were given by the organisation. (500 words)

(2) Research: summarise the findings of your individual research work. Explain the mode of research you conducted (interviews, survey, discourse analysis, etc.), explain what you hoped to achieve with this work, and present the results you found. On particular, you should indicate how this research helped illuminate the brief presented by your policy project. (750 words)

(3) Analysis: provide a briefing on the wider problem that serves as a backdrop for your project (i.e. hate-crime; environmental protection; integration of spirituality in business practice; etc.). Provide specific details relating to the West-Midlands context. (750 words)

(4) Policy project: present your group policy project from your own perspective. Explain how this project was designed to address the problem and context you have illuminated above and how it was tailored to the specific needs of your organisation. What did you attempt, how did this relate to the brief you were given by the organisation, and what did you achieve? Include details of your own role within the team and indicate what skills you developed over the course of that work. (500 words)

(5) Knowledge gained: Writing towards a public audience, familiar with your organisation, summarise what you learned about religion in the public sphere in conducting your project in this very specific context. What kind of advice might your project and the research you conducted lead you to provide to someone working professionally in business, third sector, or government with relation to the brief you considered? (500 words)


Note: you can read this presentation at http://jeremykidwell.info/presentations/