Prof. Crews — Outside the Classroom

Prof. Emily Crews, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, recently joined us as an instructor in the Department of Religious Studies.  After serving two years as a volunteer in Namibia, she carried out fieldwork in Chicago Pentecostal churches. Currently, she teaches REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion and REL 360 Religion in Pop Culture while she finishes her Ph.D. dissertation.

Her work focuses on the adaptive culture and religious practices of Nigerian immigrants in the Northern US. She looks specifically at how Pentecostal customs help mold individual experience after relocation, and how immigration, in turn, can impact how this group views their religion. Prof. Crews has a fascination in exploring how social groups re-establish their group identity in a foreign place. By following a specific cohort in a church setting, she has been able to use social theory to explore the difficulties these individuals often face after uprooting from home.

While conducting research for two years, Prof. Crews refined her interests to Nigerian women in particular. Although her dissertation has focused on Nigerian immigration in Chicago generally, her most recent observations have led her to explore constructions of womanhood specifically. She is especially interested in how the expectations of women are shaped by the way they, and their social group, think about religion.  

Prof. Crews realized her interest as an undergraduate student when she took several classes on African Religion. After graduating, she volunteered with the Peace Corps in Southwestern Africa, where she helped treat HIV and AIDS patients for two years. While she admits her description fits the stereotype, she explained her experience was unexpectedly difficult but personally transformative. Namibia, as a newly independent country, was still working out their basic functions and identity. In a foreign country trodden with devastating disease and a language unfamiliar to her, Prof. Crews had an educational experience as an outsider. Although she had an early interest in African Culture, her volunteer work abroad shed her fascination in a new light. Her experience in Africa allowed her the opportunity to redefine how she viewed her fieldwork and how she facilitated classes as a university instructor.

Beyond completing her dissertation and teaching several courses, Prof. Crews is also working on writing several articles, essays, and reviews for varying sources. She recently finished an essay on J. Z. Smith’s method and theory in the study of religion and is writing a piece for the Religion Compass Journal on the African diaspora and Pentecostals. She is especially excited about her work building a website for the University of Alabama. The site is designed to be a place where teachers at all stages can share resources for teaching major concepts in the study of religion. It will feature previously used examples from all stages of academia (graduate students to senior faculty alike) and will be accessible to professors around the nation.

Prof. Crews’ diverse life experience and engaging teaching style make her a great addition to our faculty. Stop by Manly Hall for a chat to learn more about her interests in the classroom and the field.