The Starr King Emergent Educational Design centers education on the transformative power of relationships and honors the “interdependent web of all existence.” Each student works in relationship with a faculty advisor who guides and accompanies their learning process. Study groups, rituals and spiritual practices programs invite students into creative interchange with one another. Courses, immersions, internships and fieldwork projects relate theological studies to the lived realities of specific communities, cultures and traditions.
Working within a counter-oppressive and multi-religious framework, Starr King students and faculty continually consider the relationships and intersections of religions, the arts, race, class, gender, embodiment, ecologies, cultural representations, sexualities, spiritual practices, justice and peace issues, technologies, and global economic realities. In the preparation of religious leaders for the 21st century, none of these can be treated as peripheral or “add on” considerations, because of all these issues are integral to the realities, beauty, and complexity of human life, understood as a relational whole.
Relational learning cultivates right relationship with self, with others, with communities of accountability, and with the sacred “ground of all relating” which is understood and honored in many ways in diverse religious traditions and spiritual practices.
Constructive learning respects that students have knowledge, experience, and agency to bring to the learning process. Internalized and systemic oppressions are countered by constructive learning which calls forth the presence and full engagement of students as creators rather than empty vessels or passive recipients of knowledge. Intentionality, self-awareness, and attention to social location are involved. Constructive learning cultivates human capacities and ethical virtues that empower courageous, engaged religious leadership; it is a way of teaching and learning that brings compassion and justice to the world.
Relational/constructive learning represents an evolution of progressive educational practices that are deeply rooted in Starr King’s history. Unitarian Universalist religious leaders in the 19th century pioneered revolutionary innovations in education to “call forth and direct aright all the powers of the soul” (William Ellery Channing). Their approach made education both a spiritual practice and an impulse for social change, igniting movements for women’s rights, worker’s rights, indigenous people’s rights, the abolition of slavery, ecological conservation, non-violence and resistance to war, and openness to the wisdom of all the world’s religious traditions.
Relational/constructive learning calls forth empowered and engaged spiritual leaders, rooted in love and committed to justice.