The Implications of Designations

A lot of people in our field now advocate approaches that find religion either in unexpected or overlooked places. What once might have been called the implicit religion movement, at least as once associated with the work of the late Ed Bailey, has now been joined by the more-or-less related lived religion, material religion, religion on the ground, as well as the embodied religion approaches, all of which aim to identify religion in places where scholars, who have long been preoccupied with reading texts (and thereby studying what some of our literate predecessors left behind), have not found it before, often due to some sort of scholarly bias. Continue reading

We Are the Beneficiaries

vogons

As I sit here making the Spring 2017 class schedule for our department I recall the many times that I’ve heard academics lament being involved in administration. (That they equally complain about no longer being much involved in the governance of their institutions is an irony too rich to overlook.) “My condolences” is the witty reply many offer when learning that a colleague has fallen on the dagger (yes, that’s how it is portrayed) of becoming a department chair, coupled with such profuse congratulations at news of one stepping down as to make you think that it was equivalent to having your wrongful conviction overturned. Continue reading

Got, Got, Got, Got No Time…

Yesterday, I participated in a faculty panel as part of my university’s recruiting day, for high school students, and their parents, interested in attending our school–a panel in which a few of us answered questions about what we wish we knew then that we know now, what our favorite courses were to teach, etc. Message sent? Faculty are approachable. Not a bad one to transmit. Continue reading

Is Bigger More Efficient?

In discussions about efficiency, different conceptions of the nature of education become significant. If education is about transferring pieces of knowledge from a learned person to a student, then the difference between a 400 student lecture course, a 30 person classrooms, a 15 student seminar, or an unlimited enrollment in an online course may be limited (although more personal interaction, in my experience, can enhance the acquisition of knowledge). However, if education is about more than becoming a walking encyclopedia, then the interaction with and feedback from a professor can be much more effective in developing skills and exploring, as briefly discussed in the previous post. The small group dynamics of a seminar, along with individual attention and advising, can be vitally important, perhaps even more efficient, for encouraging a student to explore and training him/her to approach topics in news ways and to think creatively and critically. Those skills become much more difficult to develop with large enrollments and online courses. Continue reading

The Benefits of Inefficiency

The murky imbroglio that engulfed the University of Virginia contributed to significant reflection on the relevance of academic institutions and various approaches for the future, including cuts, a corporate model of governance, and the financial benefits of online content delivery. Despite the current resolution with the reinstatement of President Sullivan, these particular issues are part of the conversation about the relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Despite emphasizing examples of scientific discoveries and innovations that developed at research universities, Siva Vaidhyanathan highlights the value of the inefficiency of the university model. An undergraduate education allows time and space to explore new areas of study and new questions, and important innovations require the opportunities to explore creative solutions that fail as well as ideas that work. This point should be pushed further, though. Skills that develop within less marketable disciplines, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity (which many humanities professors excel in teaching), can be transferred into developing innovation in other fields, whether as entrepreneurs, doctors, scientific researchers, or film makers, and through voluntary contributions to civic discourse and social problem solving. These skills take time to develop and do not always demonstrate an immediate or marketable gain, but they can make a difference in society. A focus on the short-term bottom line and quick or guaranteed research success overlooks much of what innovation and an improving society requires.