Teaching

Some pedagogical resources, info on courses that I teach, and a statement on teaching:

Page contents (click on the list to move down the page)

Pedagogical Tools (click on each title to download a copy)

  • Paragraph Response Sheet – I use coded rubrics as feedback devices. This handout has 35 numbered comments addressing topic sentences, clarity of writing, use of sources, inclusion of main points, etc. (odd numbered comments are thing to improve; even-numbered comments are strengths). I write the numbers rather than the comments on student work. The sheet (posted on-line at the beginning of the term) also serves as a rubric for students to use in drafting their work and preparing for tests, because it does a good job of describing my expectations for “good” paragraphs. Of course, specific comments are still required on each piece of student work, but this sheet saves a significant chunk of time.
  • The Writing Process – This is a set of tips on how to navigate the process of writing, based on my years of experience as a writing tutor and on the tutorials on writing that I include in many of my classes.
  • Essay Rubric – This is a fairly standard assignment rubric, spelling out the difference between excellent, average and marginal work with respect to a series of criteria.
  • Reading Images – This is a handout that I developed in a joint project with art educator Irene Naested. It sets out a method for reading religious images by looking for the fit between visual elements and religious concepts.

Courses

I teach the following courses at Mount Royal University (MRU), depending on the term:

  • RELS 1101 – World Religions: Western
  • RELS 1105 – The Nature of Religion
  • RELS 2208 – Religion and Popular Culture
  • RELS 2253 – Christianity
  • RELS 3305 – Esotericism, Magic and the Occult
  • RELS 3322 – Religion in the Americas
  • RELS 3333 – Death and Afterlife
  • RELS 3360 – Topics in Christianity
  • HUMN 2297 – Issues in Science and Religion
  • GNED 1203 – Cultural Perspectives on Science

A Sample of Conceptual Work

This diagram illustrates one sort of tension that can be very useful as a reflective exercise near the end of classes, especially those where the students have been excited by what we have studied together and where they have really grappled with some of the complexities of “religion.” The diagram problematizes relations between naturalistic and relational views of religion (on the left) and ideological critique (on the right).

graphic1


Teaching Statement

The study of religion is not just one academic discipline among others. It is a privileged space for coming to understand how values and ideologies shape individuals and societies.

My three levels of teaching outcomes:

  1. Substantive: teach the material. I prioritize relations between assessment and a range of teaching techniques, with due attention to maintaining currency in topics and approaches, accommodating students who face challenges with accessibility (in conjunction with university services), working with available technologies, and taking account of research on attention spans, learning styles, active learning etc.

Example: In my first-year Western Religions course, students choose between interviewing someone for whom religion has been an important factor in their life or making a site visit to a synagogue, church or mosque. We spend class time discussing methodological issues. Each student meets with me to discuss either a coded partial transcription or thematically organized field notes. Student evaluations suggest that this is a valued and effective course component.

  1. Disciplinary: represent the study of religion. Academic disciplines are distinguished by their epistemological (theoretical, methodological), social (cultural, institutional, and organizational) and pedagogical dimensions. I tell students that taking a course is a process of disciplinary inculturation and illustrate this by situating our course within this framework.

Example: I illustrate the task of writing clear paragraphs by using examples from journals. This helps to shake students’ assumptions that writing is about achieving a uniform, universal standard. It gets them thinking about how writing in the human and social sciences differs from other styles and models that they may be familiar with. All my courses work on writing skills.

  1. Critical: model and provide practice in ideological critique. Religions constitute worldviews; and students bring their own religious and non-religious worldviews into the classroom. The former is core material, but I consistently bridge to the latter.

Example: On the topic of types of authority, we discuss why anyone in the class would follow a classmate if she were to call for an exodus to study religion with her in a classroom down the hall. We move toward understanding that my authority is institutional, where hers, if acknowledged, would be charismatic. Students often refer to this discussion if they choose authority as the lens for writing their comparative final exam essay.

All aspects of my teaching are oriented by the imperative to act professionally and ethically, especially by treating all students equitably and respectfully, regardless of identity and background, and by maintaining a supportive and productive learning environment.

In sum, my pedagogical strategies aim to present religions as vital instances of the forces that shape our lives, in the hope that students will benefit, long after they have left the classroom, from this discipline-specific mode of critical thinking as ideological critique.



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