Although the workshop has existed in one form or another since 2010, its focus has changed to suit the needs of the teachers it serves. Initially hosted through the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Indic Studies, the workshop was conceptualized as an introduction to the four religious traditions commonly associated with India–Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism—and their effect on Indian culture from antiquity to the modern day. Conceived as a small in-house operation, the workshop was created with an eye to helping teachers who were concerned about common student questions, such as the meaning of karma or whether Buddhism is a theistic faith, mostly related to religion, and mostly focused on teachers’ interactions with the Indian diaspora.
Intending to provide non-sectarian education on these subjects from an interfaith, current events-based, and accurate perspective geared towards teachers, the workshop worked with 10-20 teachers per year to explore the material with subject matter experts from South and Southeast Asia, Canada, East Asia, and the U.S. Subject matter experts were linguists, historians, scientists, activists, religious practitioners, and others, and over time second-generation diaspora, artists, social activists, and other voices began to be involved as well.
Currently, the workshop has trained upwards of 100 teachers who have produced hundreds of lesson plans for their personal units and mandated curriculum. Teachers have hailed from all disciplines—even the occasional science or music teacher!—and explored diverse topics within the workshop.
As the Common Core, our understanding of teachers’ needs, and the landscape of controversies surrounding education about these subjects changed, we began to see a need for a workshop that addressed the general landscape of India in particular, with the full extent of its religious and non-religious diversity and a greater inclusion of current events and media studies. Today’s workshop reflects intensive redesign based on the needs and experiences of past participants.