The Caribbean Mosaic: A Team-Taught Course On Cultural Diversity

By Harald Sandström, Hudson Birden and Joan O'Mara.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

For over ten years, an interdisciplinary faculty team has been offering a course at the University of Hartford, Conn., USA on what has been called a "laboratory of diversity": the Caribbean region.

The course starts by dispelling students' commonly held stereotypes of the Caribbean and proceeds to promote understanding of the complex lives led by people from the rich mix of racial and cultural backgrounds that make up the island nations of the Caribbean. Cultural/religious amalgams are examined, ranging from slave blendings of Roman Catholicism with West African Yoruba leading to Voodun/ Santeria to the Rastafarian adaptation of Christianity into a cargo cult focusing on a Garveyesque return to Africa.

The influence of musical genres originating in the Caribbean and their effect on political and cultural development are traced including, most importantly, the world-wide political and social phenomenon of reggae. Literary selections feature critical analyses of Caribbean identity and ethnic conflict, and probing examinations of contemporary realities that have evolved out of what was, over four centuries, one of the most brutal and violent episodes of human history. External economic dominance is considered in terms of its impact on the lives of the region's inhabitants as well as its effect on a domestic politics of diminished sovereignty and consequent politics of protest against globalization.

A variety of teaching methods are used in the course. Participatory learning is encouraged through class discussions of controversial topics, journal keeping, sampling West Indian food, and critical analysis of music and literature from the region.

Keywords: Cultural Identity, Belonging, Music, Literature, Colonial Studies, Slavery

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp.163-172. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 955.435KB).

Dr. Harald Sandström

Associate Professor, Department of Politics & Government, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Hartford, USA

I was born in Sweden, and came to study in the United States at age seventeen. I have degrees in Political Science and International Relations from Pennsylvania State University, the London School of Economics, and the University of Pennsylvania. My doctoral dissertation compared West Indian Black Power ideology and Latin American dependency theory. That dissertation is becoming a book portraying that Black Power movement as a precursor of today's Anti-Globalization movement. I co-edited a book on The Caribbean After Grenada: Revolution, Conflict and Democracy and wrote a chapter for it on “The Ideology of the Grenadian Revolution.” I am working on a Third World Politics textbook, to be followed by a book on development theory, a critique of American foreign policy in Iraq and beyond, and a comparative biography of Jamaican Prime Ministers Michael Manley and P. J. Patterson. I am a member of the Editorial Board of the New England Journal of Political Science. I direct a program in Political Economy, and I have taught courses in Political Psychology and Political Sociology. Besides the Caribbean Mosaic course presented here, I have co-developed two other interdisciplinary courses and helped launch courses on Ethnicity and Hunger.

Hudson Birden

Senior Lecturer, Department of Rural Health, University of Sydney/Southern Cross University, Australia

Hudson also holds an academic post at the University of Hartford, where he was a founding member of the course development and teaching team for The Caribbean Mosaic, a course covering the history, literature, and music of the Caribbean region. His research interests include infectious diseases epidemiology and the impact of infectious diseases on the course of history. He holds an MPH from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health, a BS in Biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is enrolled in a PhD program in the Faculty of Medicine, Discipline of General Practice, University of Sydney.

Dr. Joan O'Mara

Hillyer College, University of Hartford, USA

O’Mara (Ph.D. 1971, University of Arizona), is the author is several articles and chapters in books. She has made presentations at the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association, the Eastern Communication Association, the Speech Communication Association of Puerto Rico, the World Communication Association, the Organization for the Study of Language and Gender, the International Listening Association, and the Popular Culture Association. Her research interests include interpersonal communication and instructional communication, Caribbean theatre, and Puerto Rican literature and culture.


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