Professor of Religion Gereon Kopf lectures on decolonizing Paideia


Professor of Religion Gereon Kopf poses for a headshot. Photo courtesy of Professor Gereon Kopf.

On Tuesday, September 28, Luther Professor of Religion Gereon Kopf gave the first lecture in the “Issues and Texts” Paideia lecture series. “Opening Ourselves to the World: Navigating a Global-Critical Curriculum” was focused on the idea of decolonizing Paideia and the liberal arts. This lecture served as an introduction to the wider themes explored in this year’s series, Decolonizing Paideia? Revising the Products and Processes of Education. 


In his lecture, Kopf elaborated on the ways that underrepresented groups are being left out of the Paideia conversation, and the ways in which the Luther community can address these issues. He suggested that the solution requires a deep analysis of what is being taught, how it is being taught, who is teaching it, and everything in between. Using that knowledge to change teaching and learning at Luther to make it less focused on a “single narrative” past is the end goal. 


“The whole [lecture] series is on how to make the Paideia program decolonized and less Eurocentric,” Kopf said. “We need to give voices that are not being included a chance to be heard.” 


This idea has been a passion of Kopf’s over the years, and through his work he has become an advocate for the voices of the underrepresented. Kopf believes that it is the moral responsibility of educators to focus on a variety of voices, not just the loudest ones.


While it may seem daunting to reorganize the structure of Paideia, Kopf suggests that there are a number of things the curriculum already does well.


“We are overall doing well at getting more [diverse] texts and material,” Kopf said. “The next step is to change our questions and means of inquiry [to represent a broader audience].”


In the course of his lecture, Kopf described the ways in which these concepts might materialize in the classroom. When first hand experiences do not apply, it may be the responsibility of professors to teach material from perspectives they may not have directly encountered before.


“The solution is to switch frames,” Kopf said. “The goal is to understand the world through the eyes of another. We must learn to understand a multiplicity of perspectives.”


Instructor in Music and Paideia Director Kathy Reed said Kopf’s lecture and its material connects well to teaching at Luther. 


“Profesor Kopf was calling into question not only the content of what we teach, but the processes that we use to teach,” Reed said. “These questions have been part of our thinking and teaching for a while now, but I think asking this question explicitly is the next step.”


The curriculum at Luther is designed to give students the opportunity to study their passions and become successful in their chosen fields, while also giving them a basic foundation of education in the liberal arts. This is traditionally carried out through the participation in required Paideia 111, 112, and 450 courses.


 “Paideia is our signature program here at Luther College,” Reed said. “It’s been in our history for 50 years, and it’s a way that we try to ground Luther students with a common experience that provides a foundation for our college [culture].”


Tessa Sand (‘22), one of Kopf’s students, spoke about the lecture, and addressed why she believes a change in the Paideia curriculum could be beneficial.


“I think that personal engagement with other cultures is a way to get out of a single minded [perspective],” Sand said. “I think the liberal arts [at Luther] would be so much stronger if we took a more universal approach, and included cultures from all different backgrounds in our discussion.”


The next installment of the Paideia Texts and Issues Lecture will take place on November 2. Professors of Religion Todd Green, Robert Shedinger, and Wanda Deifelt, will collaborate to present “Decolonized Approaches to Teaching Religious Studies.” All lectures in the series will take place at 7:00 pm. in the CFL Recital Hall.