Dr John Powers

Australian Award for University Teaching - Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning
School of Culture, History and Language
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

Since receiving my PhD in 1991 I have been employed in teaching faculties and have developed a range of courses on religion that begin with surveys and continue through more advanced and in-depth courses, including graduate-level theory seminars. When I began teaching courses on Asian religions, I was struck by the paucity of available texts and the fact that many were seriously flawed and out of date. I intended to devote a significant part of my working life to undergraduate teaching, and so I began creating materials that reflected both the current state of the art in scholarship and pedagogical technique. My texts incorporate original translations of important religious texts, historical surveys of Asian traditions, discussions of doctrine and practice, analyses of contemporary religious movements, and how ancient traditions adapt to the challenges of modernity. They are structured in a way that incorporates educational research into how students learn and ways to facilitate students' ability to analyse and apply what they learn.

This is an important project because religion plays a central role in many international events and in conflicts between and within nations. The daily news contains headlines of violence motivated by religion and wars justified by religious beliefs, as well as acts of compassion and public service attributed to religious convictions. Billions of people around the world profess religious beliefs and claim that their behaviour is shaped by them.

Max Weber famously stated that as technology and science develop religion wanes in importance, and during the 1960s and 1970s many commentators confidently predicted the imminent demise of religion. These ideas have proven to be completely unfounded. Today religion plays an increasingly important role in world affairs, and most religions are gaining adherents at a rapid rate. Students need accurate information and analysis of this phenomenon. This has been a core focus of my professional work, and I have produced a number of books and other learning materials that are used in my own courses and also all over the world. Several have been translated into other languages.

A key aspect for developing my texts is to involve students in the process of writing, testing, and revision. Students have responded favourably to being integrated into the process, and a number have cited this as one of the things they particularly enjoy about my courses. I have been nominated by students for teaching awards on five occasions, including for an ANU Vice Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009. In 2010 I received an Australian Award for University Teaching - Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning.