7 Things I Learned at HILT for the Digital Study of Religion

view of table with laptop computers

Prof. Nathan Loewen specializes in the philosophy of religion and digital humanities among other things. This summer his research interests are taking him in a new direction at their intersection.   

Last week, I travelled to the 2019 Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching event to learn about text analysis from Katie Rawson. Here are just a few outcomes from those five days. Continue reading

I, Robot… I, Ethical

On my morning drive into work, I heard a news report on autonomous and intelligent road vehicles, or self-driving automobiles. The story explained that as these vehicles are optimized for road safety, designers must determine programming imperatives such as whether a vehicle should prioritize the safety of the human “driver” or a pedestrian in a roadway.

If that scenario was not unsettling enough, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is developing a certification of ethics for approved vehicles. But determining the credentialed curriculum has proven tricky because of cultural bias.

As one IEEE representative explained, the radar system in some prototypes has been calibrated to detect darting squirrels, but testing in Australia helped researcher realize that they had not accounted for the hopping of kangaroos. All ethical politics are local politics it seems.

A less quaint shorthand of meaning-making was the admission by IEEE credential architect, John Havens.

All ethics questions, often times, especially in western media, is coming from a Greek background of ethics whereas when we have the entire other side of the planet and the Global South has things called Confucian ethics and Ubuntu ethics. And it is a reframing of the paradigm of how we come to these questions … And so it is when you ask those questions that much more, this is where the words “safety” or “trust” can really be elevated to more global levels and that is what IEEE is about with consensus building globally. That is to say, “We don’t know. We don’t know yet, but we have to ask.”

The lede here reminded me of the 2004 film, I, Robot, in which the robotic infrastructure of the future turns against humanity, and a prejudice, anti-robot police officer (played by Will Smith) must save the day.

But truth be told, I’m less worried about the politics of a CPU than I am of the way some certain ethical interpreters and interpretations will be taken as representative of whole peoples in the service of the global good. One does not have to turn to science fiction to think about how some people will become casualties in that process. That’s just history.

Words and Things: What’s in the Black Box?

Shannon Trosper Schorey is a doctoral candidate in the Religious Studies Department at UNC Chapel Hill. Her dissertation “The Internet is Holy” charts the fusion of religion and information technologies in Silicon Valley since the mid-20th century. (The introduction to the series is posted here.)

In our Religious Studies Department at UNC Chapel Hill I teach an undergraduate course called Technology, the Self, and Ethical Problems. The course serves two purposes, the first is to introduce students to the range of work being done at the intersection of religious studies and communication studies. The second is to prepare students to think critically about the relationship between words and things — what kind of social worlds do we build between and out of our shared ideas, languages, and material stuffs? Is it useful, or even possible, to think about these relations as existing between ontologically distinct categories? Continue reading

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


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.


Personalized Reading Experiences

Like a lot of academics, I’m sure, I got this email the other day, from a textbook publisher doing its best — like all those MOOC providers and other eBook developers — to create the impression of a need.

Picture 7Funny, but I thought we’d already invented a way to have an individualized reading experience. Continue reading

iPhones, Monks and the Images We Construct

tibet money

by Hannah Etchison

Hannah Etchison, a graduating senior majoring in Religious Studies with a minor in Asian Studies, spent six weeks of this fall in India, staying primarily at a monastery where she will learn from the women and help them with their English. This is her third post about that experience. See her first and second posts. 

Sogyal* struck up a conversation with me quickly. I had mentioned to another guest at the World Buddhist Centre that I was an English teacher.

“You’re a teacher? So am I.” He chimed in with clear but accented English. Continue reading

STEM Myths

09 STEMeducation Opener

From the “your undergrad degree does not necessarily determine your life’s trajectory” files comes this interesting article on the much headlined (but, according to this author’s research, mythic) shortage of STEM researchers (STEM = science, technology, engineering, and math).

Apart from little agreement in the literature on just what constitutes STEM disciplines and employment areas, the article finds: Continue reading