Professors of religion Anthony Pinn and Bernard Freeman, who is commonly known as Houston rapper Bun B, are offering their Religion and Hip Hop (RELI 157) course to the general public for free on the online platform EdX this spring. After teaching the course on campus for two semesters and garnering a wide following both within and beyond the university, the duo said creating an online version felt natural.

“It allows us to be creative,” Pinn said. “One of things we wanted to do is make certain that we took students off campus ... and think of the course in a way that privileged that movement beyond the hedges and do this thing differently and to give it to a global audience.”

According to Freeman, they plan to film the lectures from a variety of locations in the Houston community, such as churches, mosques and synagogues. 

“If the students can be sitting anywhere to take the lesson, then we can be anywhere presenting the lesson,” Freeman said. “Houston is a vibrant hip-hop community, and a religious one because the city is so multicultural, so we have more places than other cities to go out to film these lessons.”

Discussion is also a major focus of the course, according to the professors. Students in the same area will meet together with a facilitator, a community figure who will serve as their discussion leader. The duo has also proposed continuing the conversations on Twitter, where students and instructors can interact directly. The main goal, according to Pinn, is to bring together multiple perspectives. 

“We have students signed up from roughly 108 countries, the age range from about 12 to 90, so the conversation will be really interesting,” Pinn said. “But they are required to interact with each other. The more you engage, the better your grade will be.”

According to Freeman, disagreement between students is not only expected, but encouraged.

“The 12-year-old’s perspective on religion and hip-hop is going to be drastically different from a 90-year-old’s,” Freeman said. “There’s room for each student involved in the classroom to create their own interpretation on what the lesson is. Is it right or is it wrong? It’s really neither.”

To further encourage a variety of students to register, the duo is promoting the course to as many people as they can reach.

“That’s the whole thing, is to let as many people know its available and that it’s free,” Freeman said. “Most college courses aren’t offered for free in the university, much less online.”

The duo has also reached out to figures in both the Rice and Houston communities, such as local artist Gonzo, to help publicize the class. 

“The Rice college or student group that signs up the most non-Rice folks will get a piece from Gonzo and lunch with us off campus,” Pinn said.

As for the future of the course, Freeman said they remain open for more opportunities to offer the course, as well as new courses. 

“But for now we’re just focusing on the online course and making sure that we knock that out of the park,” Freeman said. “We’re just finding what works. Pop one piece out, another piece in — kind of like academy Jenga.”