The Value of Immersion

“Experience is the hardest kind of teacher,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “It gives you the test first, and the lesson afterward.”  

Educators have long known that the best way to learn a language, understand a culture, or learn a profession is through immersion –  engaging the whole person in experiences that provide a clear context for understanding.

It’s easy to imagine how immersion works in the realm of, say, medicine, linguistics, or architecture.  But what about the cerebral world of theology, a discipline replete with abstracts, soaring ideas, and puzzling paradoxes?  The image of the student in a library buried in volumes of Barth, Tillich, and Aquinas is not immersion.  Submersion, perhaps, but not immersion.

Immersion does not happen through books alone.  Immersion happens through engagement with the world.

At SCUPE we have perfected the immersion experience as a critical teaching tool to engage students in creating what we call a contextual theology.  Through a carefully designed sequence of questioning, engaging, and processing, we help students to know – not just in their heads, but in their bones – what it means to be homeless, hungry, displaced, or poor, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu, blissful, fearful, or inspired.  We meet with authors, experts, and thought leaders as well as those who are living the experience. We help students to know – not just to know about – the real lives of others so that together we can begin to build a theological understanding – a contextual theology – that empowers us to truly minister not to the condition but to the person.  It is the careful sequencing of engaging the head, heart, and hands in ministries of both mercy and justice.

Why Participate in an Immersion

Nogales - WALL
U.S. Border Wall, Nogales, Mexico

A SCUPE board member who participated in the immersion last November at Nogales, Mexico remarked that it was a transformative experience for him. Another, a seminary professor remarked how helpful our time was at the end of the trip, where we built our own contextual theology based on the experience.

Those who’ve participated at other immersions: exploring transitional urban communities, food deserts, being in the presence of over 50 religious communities at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, had similar expressions of personal transformation.

If you really want to understand an issue, you need to look at it from the perspective of those who are most affected by it – those in the margins. That’s what immersions do.

Upcoming Immersion Experiences

Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo
View of Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

SCUPE is planning an exciting schedule of immersion experiences for the upcoming year.  

We have scheduled an all NEW tour of some of Chicago’s stunning sacred architecture called “Sacred Stones” – led by Chicago architect and Ambassador of Sacred Spaces for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Suzanne Morgan. In this day-long tour we will visit three houses of worship:   

  • Baha’i House of Worship, Wilmette.  With its ornate, lacy dome rising 20 stories, it is home to one of the world’s oldest and largest Baha’i communities.
  • Palatine Gurdwara (Temple) – For nearly 50 years Sikhs have been worshipping in this unique setting, rich in symbolism and beauty.
  • The Dar-us-Sunnah Mosque in Evanston, IL, a 20th century expression of timeless symbolism.

This event will take place on Saturday, September 17th in Chicago. RESERVE YOUR PLACE HERE.

On November 3-6 we will return to Nogales, Arizona to the US-Mexico border where we will build on the powerful experiences of last year. Be sure to mark this date and watch for more information.

In January of 2017 we will journey to Sri Lanka for an immersion experience in Buddhist spirituality, as an ancient culture struggles with significant social challenges in a rapidly changing world.

Other immersion trips currently in the works include Israel, Palestine, and the West Bank and an Immersion in India.  Be sure to watch here for more information, or contact SCUPE.


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