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27 February 2013

From the Pulpit to the Podium

Just a quick note today. I'm sure there has to be some historical work out there on this topic. (Please point us toward it if you know it in the comments below.)

I recently found myself sitting through a church sermon, wishing that it was more academic. My next thought was that it was striking how similar sermons are to lectures. I think I'm right in assuming that traditional academic lectures are in fact the relic of medieval Catholic sermons. If I remember my pre-modern history correctly, the medieval sermons were the only education available then to an illiterate public. The roots of the university are in the Church as well. It occurs to me that both the sermon (more often called a "homily" in many congregations today) and the archaic academic lecture are entirely ineffectual and outmoded pedagogical tools. To appropriate Krugman's term, the lecture and the sermon are zombie techniques: no matter how much evidence we amass that they're bad and no matter how many people zone out during church or class, they--the techniques, not the people--refuse to die and just keep coming back. There's a lot to tap into here in terms of comparisons of effective worship and educational formats.

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