Inclusive Pedagogies

This brief description provides an introduction to inclusive pedagogies. If you’d like to dig deeper, see the resources for further learning.

Classical vs. Inclusive Pedagogies

Classical pedagogy focuses on handing down a canonical body of knowledge, often in a clearly defined field with little emphasis on interdisciplinary work. As a teacher-centered approach, instruction is typically heavy on lectures. And tests and papers are the primary means of assessment, which means that student learning is largely an individual exercise in memorizing and communicating information.

Inclusive pedagogies are student-centered, and while they can take different forms, they may include a focus on the following:

  • engaging a broader canon of knowledge (e.g., including multicultural perspectives);
  • developing supportive relationships and creating a sense of belonging;
  • constructing knowledge in communal dialogue;
  • integrating new knowledge with students’ prior and current experiences;
  • encouraging students to develop their own voices to communicate what they’re learning;
  • employing Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which “provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone—not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs” (“About UDL,” UDL on Campus);
  • using broader means of assessment, allowing students to demonstrate creative engagement with course material.

Also, rather than seeking to develop mastery of a particular interpretive tradition, inclusive pedagogies emphasize integration:

  • of disciplines (e.g., biblical studies/theology and ethics),
  • of the whole person,
  • of theological education and the church,
  • of theological education and various facets of contemporary life and culture.

Teaching Practices

Inclusive pedagogies can involve a wide variety of teaching practices, which may be used alongside lecturing, including:
  • large- or small-group discussions (or incorporation of the African American tradition of call and response);
  • reflection questions or in-class exercises;
  • the use of art, music, or poetry;
  • dramatization;
  • role play;
  • spiritual exercises (e.g., Lectio Divina or Ignatian Contemplation);
  • games or other group activities that help students internalize course material.

There is no single approach that works well in every context—practices should be chosen to fit the content and learning objectives of a particular course or class session.

Modes of Assessment

Developing more inclusive modes of assessment involves less reliance on exams (particularly “objective” exams) and standard exegetical or theological essays, though these may still be used in combination with more creative opportunities for students to show what they have learned and integrate their learning into their experience, for example:
  • presentations (involving art, music, poetry, lecture, dialogue, etc.),
  • group assignments,
  • written or preached sermons,
  • Bible study materials,
  • reflection papers,
  • critiques of contemporary uses of the Bible or theology (e.g., in popular Christian or non-Christian books, songs, films, art, etc.),
  • imagined dialogues with biblical characters or prominent theologians about a particular topic or theme, imagined critical analyses of a modern church phenomenon by biblical characters or prominent theologians (e.g., How might the apostle Paul critique a service at your church?).

When possible, inclusive pedagogies offer students some choice about how to meet the learning objectives for a course—for example, by selecting from different assignment options.

For written assignments, it’s helpful to give students low-cost opportunities to practice writing and get feedback early in the semester and/or to break down larger assignments into smaller parts, rather than simply assigning a make-it-or-break-it essay at the end of the term. It may also be helpful to encourage students to write in the voices they would use in their own ministry settings, rather than trying to adopt an “academic” voice, and to reconsider the means of evaluation to guard against expectations that minority students will need to assimilate to the majority culture.


We’re starting a repository of syllabi, assignments, in-class exercises, etc. that illustrate what an inclusive pedagogy might look like. Here are the few examples we’ve collected so far:

If you’d like to submit materials for consideration, see here.

Further Learning

Gin, Deborah H. C., and Mark Chung Hearn, “Why You Do What You Do: The Power in Knowing and Naming Pedagogies.” Teaching Theology and Religion 22 (2019): 30–51.

Gin and Hearn provide a taxonomy of pedagogical models (including classical pedagogy, the pedagogy of John Dewey, behaviorist pedagogy, early constructivist pedagogy, social constructivist pedagogy, relational pedagogies, multicultural pedagogy, and critical pedagogy) and examples of corresponding pedagogical practices.

Jennings, Willie. After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging. Theological Education Between the Times. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020.

Contending that Western theological education has focused primarily on developing mastery of a particular interpretive tradition—creating the self-sufficient White male scholar—Jennings instead casts a vision for education that seeks to foster belonging and communion. He emphasizes the need for creating spaces where students can integrate the various fragments of their backgrounds with the fragments of what they’re learning, becoming more fully themselves and developing their own unique voices.

Gannon, Kevin M. Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2020.

After strongly critiquing the current situation in higher education, Gannon offers his own pedagogy of “radical hope,” which seeks to create life-affirming classroom environments and position all students—regardless of their background or degree of preparation—as active participants in the learning process. Radical Hope does not specifically address theological education and is not written from a Christian perspective, so readers may not agree with all of its arguments. However, it is helpful in offering concrete suggestions for moving from theory to practice on everything from Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to syllabus design to assignment choice.

Shaw, Perry, and Havilah Dharamraj, eds. Challenging Tradition: Innovation in Advanced Theological Education. Carlisle, UK: Langham, 2018.

Challenging Tradition is a collection of essays from Majority World scholars and a few Western scholars who have spent significant time in the Majority World. The focus is on exploring new pedagogical models that may work better for advanced theological education (i.e., MA and PhD programs) in global contexts, but it would also be helpful for undergraduate contexts and for Western educators who are teaching women and ethnic minority students. The essays cover both theory and practice and discuss everything from differences in cultural patterns of thinking and communication to doing theology through narrative, proverbs, and poetry.