The Problem with the Primacy of Primary Sources

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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

Prof. Loewen Presents at the Center for Instructional Technology’s Showcase

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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.

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A “Hipster’s” Introduction to the Study of Religion

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

The Proclaimers

proclaimingI’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

Collaborative Learning?

collaborativelearning2How 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:

collaborativelearningRead it all here.