Revealing Our “Wild” Experiment

A series of posts about a collaborative project at Wingate University, resulting in a first-year course called Food and Faith: Health and Happiness Around the Many Tables of Our Lives.

Donovan O. Schaefer’s Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin (2022) sets out to dismantle the binary between feeling and thinking. It uses an excerpt from Charles Darwin’s 1863 letter to a botanist as an example: “for love of heaven, favour my madness & have some scraped off & sent me. I am like a gambler, & love a wild experiment.”

Darwin was stirred and led by his excitement much like we have been. For Darwin and ourselves, feeling and emotion are ways of making knowledge and learning a more sensual experience. Everything we learn is thus saturated with feelings of our whole sentient being, our universal self. We are both contributors and participants in life’s wild experimentation. Our series of blog posts displays how classrooms can transform when shaped by

the wisdom of the entangled bank, and we have indulged in a wild experiment rooted in the idea of our vocation as planetary citizens. This final post is a snapshot of our journey in course development.

for love of heaven, favour my madness & have some scraped off & sent me. I am like a gambler, & love a wild experiment.

Charles Darwin to j.d. hooker, 26 march 1863

Course Themes and Student Learning Outcomes

Our first step was to articulate the overarching desire of this general education course: to develop global/local competencies on topics related to identity, empathy, local/global citizenship, perspective taking, critical reflection, intercultural understanding, and hospitality. From this we identified core themes:

  1. Food as the Great Connector (Food Literacy)
  2. Interconnectedness of Everything
  3. Transformation from Sustenance to Banquet
  4. Table fellowship: Ritual and Memory
  5. Justice as Hospitality
  6. Land and Food as Integral to Identity
  7. Intersectionality — Food as Spiritual and Faith as Embodied

From these themes, we distilled six Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) that would direct our teaching and assessment:

  • SLO 1 Recognize how both food and faith have cultural, political, ecological, and economic significance (Remembering)
  • SLO 2 Plan, shop and create/cook meals that are low cost and nutrient rich (Understanding)
  • SLO 3 Engage in constructive conversations around difference through the lens of table fellowship; apply these discussions to local and global food justice issues (Applying)
  • SLO 4 Evaluate academic scholarship and reflect on its connection to real life (Analyzing)
  • SLO 5 Create connections between individual food choices and systems (Self-Reflection / Evaluating)
  • SLO 6 Participate in community engaged experiential learning (Creating)

Our next step was to organize content topics into modules and assess our SLOs. We decided on three modules: 1) Personal Palates and Plates; 2) Local Tables; and 3) Global Tables.

Module 1

This first module is personal, allowing students to reflect on and share their experiences with food. They critically examine what foods are on their plates, how their palates value (or devalue) food/creatures, and what food rituals they are a part of (consciously or unconsciously). Together, we expose complex webs of cultural, social, political, economic, and historical influences on our relationship with food. Topics include:

  • Food, faith, and feasts in conversation with race, faith, and food justice
  • Food, place, and re-membering
  • Personhood and pleasure
  • Embodiment, health, hierarchies, stigmas, and liberation
  • The role food and drink has had on shaping human history
  • The role faith traditions have in transforming or vilifying our relationships with food

During this module, students spend time in our community garden befriending this space and the personalities that will inhabit plates later in the semester. They learn how to design, tend, and grow both plants and a sense of community. We have purposely designed the community garden to create informal learning experiences (e.g. QR codes about herbs; tactile stimuli) and offer time for reflection and processing.

As is outlined in our previous post, we have designed this as a community-engaged course because we are all interdependent beings — thank you entangled bank! Thus, education for vocation must be a co-creative process highlighting interconnectivity and reciprocity. During the first month, students connect with places and people involved in their food and faith networks. Students are encouraged to engage with community partners (including the garden as a stakeholder), and during class they explore what they experienced. We have also partnered with talented agents at the North Carolina Extension Office (Union and Richmond County Center), who will be co-instructors and host a six-week cooking education program. Each week, Marcus McFarland, Cheri Bennett, and Judith Garcia will work alongside Wingate students and instructors to explore key topics that reinforce theoretical content in tasty ways. They will learn about the USDA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and EBT programming, savvy shopping tactics on a shoestring budget, food safety, and healthy eating, while cooking and sharing chicken and fruit salad, tuna burgers, easy lasagna, mini-meat loaves and chicken and cheese enchiladas.

Module 2

After both inward and outward engagement, students are ready to look at the many local tables and rituals illuminating our complex relationship between food and faith. This module includes an element of choice, not unlike a menu. As a class, students vote on what religions they want to do a deep dive into and choose the religious festivals and feasts to explore. The following are the core topics:

  • Interconnectedness of Life
  • Table Fellowship as an Expression of Faith
  • Fasting and Veganism as an Expression of Faith
  • Exploring Food as Part of a Faith Based Mission (Panel)
  • Food and Religious Altars, Tables, and Rituals
  • Deep Dives and Intersectionality (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam)
  • Faith, Feasts, and Festivals

Module 3

In this final module, students will explore the intersection of food, faith, power, politics, and economics that extends from the local to global arena. In the fall semester, students will harvest what they grow to contribute to the food-related mission of these partners. Spring semester includes planting things that other stakeholders (or summer classes) will harvest later. Students will choose where their food will be gifted and have time to reflect on their community engagement. This closes the circle of reciprocity; students are gifted wisdom, friendship, and skills, and they in turn offer the fruits of their labors. The topics of this module are:

  • Food Insecurity — A Justice Issue
  • Food as Power and Gift
  • Food Sovereignty & Decolonization
  • Community Food Justice & Food Apartheid
  • Responses to Food Injustice — Building Resilience by Eating Faithfully

We hope to see the impact of the students’ reflection in our research surveys that assess civic engagement, civic skills, civic efficacy, twenty-first-century skills to help them navigate the world successfully, and other markers of high-impact, community-engaged courses. We could not do this without the talent of Candace Lapan, who spearheads this research and designed the Collaborative for the Common Good’s Service-Learning and Community Engagement Fellowship program at Wingate.

And with that, we conclude our “wild experiment“—until August. Our hope is that our first-year students will be lured into learning with their whole selves as we engage in the shared work of tilling, tending, and table fellowship with open hands, hearts, and minds. Our entangled banks continue to ground us together as we seek to cultivate our curiosities and vocational aspirations. And we offer this challenge to our readers: What seeds will we plant in the soil of our world? We invite you into this co-creative process and welcome emails at c.wright@wingate.edu and/or s.watts@wingate.edu. Feel free to use our materials with attribution copyright. Thank you!


This project is a collaboration among Catherine Wright, Shea Watts, and Harry Workman. Catherine Wright is a transplanted Canadian ecotheologian with degrees in Zoology and Christian ethics. She is the author of two books, Creation, God and Humanity: Engaging the Mystery of Suffering within the Sacred Cosmos (2017), and an interactive ecotheology book (2020) which has used been by individuals and parishes across the US and Canada. Shea Watts is a Southern-born theologian. His forthcoming book Where The Spirit Is explores the political contours of the early Pentecostal movement in the US. His expertise in the affective nature of Pentecostal experience, his commitment to veganism, and fellowship with CreatureKind (an organization focused on animals and faith) sparked innovative additions to this course. Rev. Harry Workman is a Wingate alum, a bowtie wearing North-Carolinian, and long-time friend of the religion department. He is affectionately called the “Pastor of Disaster” because his vocation has always been to serve in spaces devastated by crises and minister to people who have been displaced, devalued, and have lost their sense of identity when industries left a community.

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