Trauma, Teaching, and Learning

The one year anniversary of the global pandemic is upon us. We’ve survived COVID19, but few of us, no matter how well we’ve pivoted, adapted or accomplished and productive we may have been, can claim to be thriving. The constant ambiguity has become exhausting.

The AAR’s Spotlight on Teaching this month is thus most timely with its focus on trauma. Written by theologian educators Trauma-informed Pedagogies in the Religious Studies Classroom has 11 articles and a Compiled List of Resources that provide “a basic definition and description of trauma, introduce the features of a trauma-informed approach, and present the core values guiding a trauma-informed pedagogy.” The discussions are candid about what is happening in classrooms and communities and for what we must become prepared. Trauma is also a spiritually disruptive experience. Trauma-informed approach to education needs the whole institution to be a community of support, and faculty must collaborate with other staff on campus (e.g. student services, housing, etc.). The articles present practical strategies and invite theological, pastoral care, and counseling educators to help students understand their own context and trauma, build intercultural awareness, make the classroom a liberative space, and create honest experiences. Educators must have the emotional intelligence and honesty to rise above the prevailing ‘western’ mode to treat ourselves and students as humans. We model good self care and embrace learning as ‘do no harm’ and ‘health’ in many different forms.

Simply put, psychological trauma is the result of an experience that is too much to handle.

Darryl Stephens, What is Trauma-informed Pedagogy. Spotlight on Teaching, Religion Studies News. March 2021.

Trauma is not the event or experience but the after effect – the wound that remains.


In classroom teaching, what is most evident are the effects of trauma. Tendency to miss a lot of classes•Challenges with emotional regulation•Fear of taking risks•Anxiety about deadlines, exams, group work, or public speaking •Anger, helplessness, or dissociation when stressed •Withdrawal and isolation •Involvement in unhealthy relationships

A trauma-informed approach requires not only knowledge of trauma but also commitment and action. “The foundation for effective trauma-informed classroom practice is the educator’s grasp of how trauma impacts students’ behavior, development, relationships, and survival strategies.”35 However, subject matter knowledge is not the essence of trauma-informed pedagogy.

Darryl Stephens, What is Trauma-informed Pedagogy. Spotlight on Teaching, Religion Studies News. March 2021.

“Trauma from exposure to gender-based violence is ubiquitous in our society and among our students. Any course on gender and/or sexuality, even if not related to Islam and Muslims, will have to contend with the presence of such trauma in our classrooms.”

Juliane Hammer, Gender-Based Violence and Muslim Communities: Trauma Processing through Art. Spotlight on Teaching, Religion Studies News, March 2021.

The educational experience must be about authenticity in process, in practice, and in performance. We must tell the truth about the academic world we have made homes within, about what information lands where and transforms people for the better. We must be honest about whether our work matters in any way outside of fortifying the delusion tiers of “intelligence” out-of-touch Western voices have created. We must be honest. Hierarchy is not that creative.

Oluwatomisin Oredein. We have to tell the truth: A liberative approach to trauma-informed pedagogy. Spotlight on Teaching, Religion Studies News, March 2021.

Download the entire issue or read Editor Jessica Tinkerberg’s Introduction summary.

About the American Academy of Religion

The American Academy of Religion is “the largest scholarly society dedicated to the academic study of religion, with more than 8,000 members around the world.” The AAR “mission is to foster excellence in the academic study of religion and enhance the public understanding of religion.” Learn more about AAR here.

Religious Studies News is the web magazine of the American Academy of Religion and is designed as a platform for students and professionals in the field to report on research trends, issues in religious studies and higher education, and apply the academic study of religion to broader public conversations. RSN also examines critical issues in education and pedagogy (especially through Spotlight on Teaching and Spotlight on Theological Education), as well as topics especially relevant to minority scholars in academia. In addition to serving as a resource for people studying in an academic environment, RSN is also intended to be a public face of the scholarly study of religion. It is published throughout the calendar year with new content about every two weeks. Learn more about RSN here.

Spotlight on Teaching is a major teaching and learning initiative of the AAR and its Committee on Teaching and Learning. Over the last several years, it has become a principal venue for exploring opportunities and challenges in teaching and learning about religions. Each issue focuses on a particular theme, concern, or setting.

Published by Anita

Anita Coleman joined Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s faculty as Associate Professor of Bibliography and Research and Director of the the Ernest Miller White Library in January 2020. Anita is passionate about the power of libraries to liberate and give life.

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