How Not to Reinvent Yourself

Sierra Lawson is a BA and MA graduate of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama who is now pursuing her Ph.D. in the study of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In this post she reflects on how, as a TA, she’s using a model of the field we’ve come to call the examples approach.

As someone who describes their research interests as investigating claims about Marian devotion in modern Latin America, you can imagine my surprise upon being assigned a teaching assistantship in Hebrew Bible this semester.

Having only taken one course in the subject during my Bachelor’s degree, I wasn’t sure what to expect in this course — let alone how I might go about reflecting on it three times a week with undergraduate students during the recitation sections. The only two things I was sure about were, first, I absolutely did not have time to reinvent my scholarly interests and, second, figuring out how to be comfortable in courses outside of my immediate wheelhouse would diversify me for future teaching opportunities (where I might be required to teach material I am not immediately familiar with).

So, instead of considering the content of this class entirely new terrain, I decided to stick to what I know about the relationship between narrative and group identity, in order to make the texts included in the Hebrew Bible an e.g. of broader social processes I am interested in for my own research. Whether it’s the flood account in Genesis or the plagues in Exodus, each week I work to show my students how a group’s account of the past is always informed by interests from their present. Each story from the Hebrew Bible canon, thus, becomes an opportunity to analyze how the imagined identity of the ancient Israelites is being articulated in a given context. Operating from this model, I have been able to make use of this course — and topics like the Documentary Hypothesis or themes of national identity—as a space for refining my approach while adding water to my ever expanding pedagogical well.