Prof. Newton discusses the origin of a creative student research project that he used to end his Introduction to New Testament course. Learn more about studying the Bible in Culture in the first, second, and third entries in this series.
The first day of class can be a bit nerve-racking, even for profs. One might think that profs have it easy at the start of the semester, but we all know the importance of first impressions. And for myself, there can be a lot of anxiety around those initial activities.
There are a lot of different directions one could go on Day One. And last week I approached the start of my REL100 introductory course by working “backwards.”
I thought a bit about some of Ellie Cochran’s reflections about her time as an REL major. One thing that I kept coming back to in her blog posts was how the kinds of questions she came to ask toward the end of her time were not at all that different from the sort that many students have when they first enroll in a course. By degree’s end she had more tools for conceptualizing and investigating these questions–leading to more and more questions. Hints of that curiosity are there from the beginning.
So how might we take advantage of that kind of curiosity from the jump?
One way to absolutely not do this is to turn the course into a study of trivia and factoids.
More than a few Religious Studies profs have one of these in their office.
The wheel gives you data like the number of adherents, how the religion frames the afterlife, material culture, pros, cons, and a quick description of beliefs. Although all that information has its place and may be potentially interesting to students, I think they are savvy enough to know that a 15-week course on those things as an end (rather than a means) may be a lemon of an education.
So the question for me became how do I short-circuit any attempt to turn the class into a trip on the Wheel-o-Religion.
Now for whatever reason, when I think about my scholarship, I often come back took a classic Paul Mooney bit remarking on “the N-word.” Commenting on Americans’ simultaneous obsession with and aversion to talking about race, Mooney once remarked,
“Everybody wants to be a “N—–,” but nobody wants to be a N—–.”
Like many jokes, it surfaces the conditions on the way we make meaning. In the joke. In fewer than 15 words, Mooney relays an ethnographic observation to poke at the power dynamics, psychology, and history of race. I’m no comedian, but I’d be thrilled with those kind of results from a 75-minute class.
So instead of the Wheel-o-Religion, I riffed on Mooney’s bit:
“Everybody wants to talk about religion, but nobody wants to talk about religion.”
Then we broke it down, discussing the first question and then the second one.
I was pretty amazed by the depth of questions I got. The conversation was so riveting that I didn’t have time to snap a photo. I ended the class with one final discussion question:
What do we need to discuss this semester so that this course is not a waste of time?
Perhaps the most remarkable thing was how at no point did the questions turn to google-able answers. No trivia. No factoids.
So as the semester gets going. Let’s be a little a nervous. Let’s get a little curious. And let’s see where good questions take us. I hardly think that doing so would be a waste of our time.
Are you a Religious Studies prof? Tell us what you did for your first day.
If Manly Hall is a little quieter in Mid-November, trust that the faculty are keeping busy. Many in our Department will be headed to the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), and the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR).
And as you can see, the Department will be well represented on the program.
Prof. Nathan Loewen continues to serve on the executive committee of the International Development and Religion program unit. This group supports interdisciplinary scholarship that informs and critiques the role of religion in humanitarian interests in the global South. He also co-organizes the “Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion Seminar.”
Prof. Emily Crews is presenting a response paper on gender and sexuality during a NAASR session.
Prof. Russell T. McCutcheon is chairing a NAASR panel on Jonathan Z. Smith’s contributions to the field. And for the AAR’s Cultural History of the Study of Religion program unit, he will be chairing and responding to a panel discussing religious philanthropy and the endowment of academic chairs.
Prof. Richard Newton is leading a workshop on Teaching and Trauma for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and presenting his recent paper on race and religion for NAASR. He will also be discussing the public humanities, politics and pedagogy, and teaching theory and method in the study of religion on various panels.
The scholarly working group Culture on the Edge will bring together Prof. McCuthceon, Prof. Newton, Prof. Vaia Touna, and Prof. Ramey and others to discuss future projects and celebrate the recent publications of Strategic Acts of Identity: Toward a Dynamic Theory of People and Place (ed. Prof Touna, Equinox 2019).
The faculty will also be connecting with colleagues from other institutions. We look forward to seeing many of our not-so-local readers. And you can keep up with the action via social medi
You seen “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (2004)?
Well it provides some important pedagogical lessons. Continue reading
By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is completing her M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.
Over the past few weeks I have heard repeated talk of primary sources vs. secondary sources, privileging the former over the latter in every case. The argument that was made in these instances is premised on highlighting the legitimacy and groundedness of the primary sources, as if they focus on something “real,” (such as religion on the ground, or “real world” examples). These are then juxtaposed with the secondary sources, which are seen as subsequent discourses on primary sources, mostly concerned with meta-discourses — regarded mainly as “thinking about thinking” or “talking about talking” — which are given that secondary ranking because they aren’t talking about something “real” or answering the reader’s question (in fact, often they leave them with more questions than answers, whereas primary sources are all about answers). In some cases, these secondary sources are dismissed with a “So what?” I say “dismissed” not with a negative connotation, but with a sense of such indirect relation to the “real world religion” that the “meta-discourses” are seen as not worth the same time and engagement as their juxtaposed primary sources.
What strikes me as interesting about this distinction between primary and secondary sources is that the use of that very language largely relies on some essentialized notions of religion, as if it exists authentically, apart from subsequent claims about it. Continue reading
Faculty in REL, and throughout the University, are experimenting with technology in their classrooms every semester. Last week the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) hosted a showcase for faculty to share the cool stuff their are doing with technology in the classroom. The Department’s own Prof. Nathan Loewen presented his work in developing The College of Arts & Sciences Teaching Hub, a digital resource center that provides tools for faculty to improve and innovate in their teaching.
Along with Jessica Porter, eTech’s Digital Editorial Specialist, Prof. Loewen presented features of the Teaching Hub and engaged the audience in dialogue about the site’s design, potential features and future content. In short, the focus of the Teaching Hub is to promote community, collaboration, and teaching innovation in the College; provide opportunities to develop and refine teaching skills throughout the year, including yearly workshops, peer coaching, and the common book event; identify and share resources regarding effective, research-based teaching practices; and foster cross-disciplinary conversations on teaching and learning, relevant to faculty members at any level.
Because teaching with technology is so much more than just Powerpoint.
I’m writing this post during the office hours of my first REL100 course, “Introduction to the Study of Religion.” During the term, my 150 students were introduced to something they clearly did not expect: the study of religion. What did they expect? Something about this… Continue reading
Thanks to the wireless internet on campus and an enterprising student in class with a laptop, a quick e.g. turned into an even better example this semester. Continue reading
I’ve seen a lot of early career people teaching — of course, I was once one of them, like us all, back when, at the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s, I would write out entire lectures the day or night before and then read them each class, sticking closely to my text — and they unfortunately share a trait with some of their older, supposedly experienced colleagues: they’re proclaimers. Sitting at the back of a classroom, during the typical practice teaching moment for a job interview (something we require in our Department, along with a research presentation and a variety of other steps that comprise the typical on-campus job interview today), I’ve heard my share of candidates talk about methodological this and ontological that, hierophanies abound as do ideologies, and liminalities, and transcendental epistemologies, not to mention some post-structuralist ennui. But in the midst of the technical vocabulary I often find people who do not yet know how to teach but who, instead, are equipped only to tell people what they themselves already happen to know.
In a word, they’re proclaimers. Continue reading
How do you think a classroom ought to be structured? Who is the expert — is there even one? Is everyone in it together or are some speakers more authorized than others? After all, one of the people in that classroom is assessing the others — or is everyone assessing everyone else, with the same consequences on the line for all?
Consider this article:
Read it all here.