In Dialogue

This short collaboration allowed both JDBA Creatives and the Religious Studies Department at UCT to experiment with making video based teaching resources that doubled as a high quality open source educational tool informed by academic methodologies. Religious Studies – both in the department and in this series – takes as its subject all religions and their interaction with other aspects of life, intellectual, political and artistic. It is essentially pluralistic: committed to no particular faith but endeavouring to understand each religion in its own terms, using the tools of textual, historical, sociological and philosophical analysis. The series subsequently introduces viewers to a range of religions through conversations between students from the Religious Studies department and representatives of various religious traditions. The questions presented in the interviews are reflective of the content of the undergraduate courses at UCT and offer an informal but accurate insight into the research focuses of the scholarly field of religion. Episodes are edited to include image-based and textual references that enrich the verbal information of the interview in order to integrate all multimedia that could be useful to the viewers learning experience.

After nearly two years of near daily edutainment indulgence (through great Youtube channels like Crash Course, SciShow, Veritasium, Vox, PBS Idea Channel, Numberphile and many more) and various dabblings in making of educational media, Des and I finally got our hands on a project of our own. Whilst I’ve been completing my thesis this year, I have also been involved in teaching and tutoring first year courses for the Religious Studies Department at UCT. This led me to conversations with some colleagues in the department and together we managed to find funding in order to do a 3 episode multimedia educational project. A long time filmmaking dream finally coming true, Des and I were able to begin building a local homage to the edutainment giants of the United States Australia and Europe, but with a South African focus and linked to the curriculum of the university from which we both obtained our degrees.

Various discussions and logistical hurdles later, we got to the point of confirming that we would be making our first episode around Judaism. Dr Louis Blond subsequently searched and found a rabbi that we would interview and head tutor/PhD student Lee Scharnick-Udemans found a first year student who would be willing to be an interviewer for the meeting. I then sat down with the compulsory readings and central themes for their first year course and began to build a list of questions to present the rabbi with. The Judaism section of the first year course centrally revolves around textual interpretation, looking at what insights Genesis 1, 2 and 3 (and associated rabbinic and philosophical commentary) offer on the nature of the human being, which was an interesting topic to think through and build a script around. Having completed the script, found a rabbi willing to be interviewed, a person willing to interview the rabbi and gear booking, Des and I were ready to take on the exciting challenge of filming and building the first episode of this series.

Shooting day began with gear collection and meeting Abongile Makaula, a first year Religious Studies student at UCT, our interviewer for the day. After that, we bundled up in the car and drove from UCT campus out to Milnerton to the home of Rabbi Bryan Opert who was going to be chatting with us for the day. We arrived to meet a lively and cheerful character who was patient and wonderfully informative as we sat with him for two hours and discussed the history of Judaism as well as the variety of interpretations and meanings of the creation myth and development of human nature in the first three books of Genesis. First hand insight into the Orthodox Judaic method of engagement with text was a really interesting experience that sparked lots of questions and thoughts that I wished I had more time to discuss with the rabbi. The tradition of interrogation of textual meaning in combination with the Midrash and Talmud offers a layered and deep structure of meaning from which the Jewish communities build their values, ethics and practices.

This video is hopefully a good reflection of Judaism but is definitely also, in my opinion, a really good representation of the courses offered by the Religious Studies department itself. As an interdisciplinary research field, grounded in philosophical approaches to social science, research and teaching in the department never fails to offer their students more information about the world and how people see the world, as well as improving skills of observation and analysis in the individuals taking the courses. I have high hopes for this video series and hope that it is both of benefit to the courses that we built the series for, as well as a project that could potentially grow into a much broader video project. One that continues to serve and benefit both the internal UCT community as well as the broader community that can now access open source educational media of a university standard for free online.

Episode 1 | Judaism
Interview by Abongile Makaula | Interview with Rabbi Bryan Opert
Researched and Written by Jamie Dimitra Ashton
Produced by Lee Scharnick-Udemans and Dr Louis Blond
Filmed and Edited by Desmond Bowles

Episode 2 | Islam
Interview by Mujahid Osman | Interview with Khadeeja Bassier
Researched and Written by Jamie Dimitra Ashton
Written and Produced by Lee Scharnick-Udemans
Filmed and Edited by Desmond Bowles