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Adding Faith to Social Work Practice

A Buddhist monk is among the individuals taking part in a new social work curriculum.

A Swami, Catholic priest, Protestant minister, Rabbi and Buddhist monk walk into a classroom…. These individuals are not the punch line in a joke, but rather the teachers of spiritual diversity in the USC School of Social Work.

As part of a new social work curriculum, a class called Spirituality and Social Work Practice: Diverse Traditions and World Views uses various religious leaders from the community � representing different belief systems � to help students understand and appreciate the role of spirituality and religious values in human well-being.

Devised by professor Helen Land, the elective course is offered to master of social work students, giving them a chance to explore how various spiritual beliefs guide people’s world views and life decisions. The hope is that students will gain awareness of their own spirituality and engage in spiritually sensitive clinical practice techniques as professional practitioners.

“We strive to educate students about diverse spiritual traditions that may impact their clients’ experiences,” Land said. “In addition to speakers, we invite students to debate contemporary social issues, taking a stance that opposes their own. This method increases their sensitivity to diverse religious world views and decreases egocentricity.”

Students are assigned religious-themed literature that exposes them to the spiritual dilemmas of people struggling to make meaning of their world. Homework also includes watching movies that identify life cycle themes and life events that impact the world view and spirituality of the protagonist, who may be very much like a client students will need to help in the future.

Other assignments involve interviewing religious leaders, social workers or nurses practicing from a different faith and visiting religious services that are different from their own. Throughout the class, students keep a journal and reflect on what they are learning and experiencing.

“We are trying to help students see the client’s religious and spiritual life as dimensions of global and cultural awareness and that a belief system can be a coping resource,” she said.

Guest speakers this semester have included Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life; the Rev. Cecil Murray, emeritus pastor of Los Angeles’ First African Methodist Episcopal Church and holder of the John R. Tansey Chair in Christian Ethics; Lee Klosinski, a Catholic theologian; Elizabeth Davenport, associate dean of Religious Life and an Episcopalian minister; Swami Sarvadevananda, senior monk of the Hindu Ramakrishna Order of India and the minister and spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of Southern California; Venerable Punnaji, a medical doctor and Buddhist monk of the Theravada Tradition; and Megan Reid, USC assistant professor of religion specializing in Islamic studies.

Adding Faith to Social Work Practice

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