October 26 2020

This is a the second post in called A Proven Practice, an initiative of AAR’s Teaching Religion Program Unit and Committee on Teaching and Learning to collect and share faculty pedagogical techniques that have shown promise in the transition to online learning as a result of COVID-19. Do you have a successful technique to share with colleagues? Submit it for publication. Read Part I of A Proven Practice.


Synthesizing Student Discussion Posts to Facilitate Critical Reflection

I teach World Religions at a medium-sized regional public university in a writing-intensive upper-level undergraduate course taken mostly by non-majors. Each week I assign chapters from our textbook as well as short articles and documentaries (these often serving as a way of complicating the textbook’s presentation of a given tradition). To guide student engagement with the assigned material, I give students two discussion prompts. They are required to write an original post and a response post totaling approximately 600 words. I identify which of the two prompts generate the most posts and compose a longer post of 1200–1500 words in which I quote from each of the students who posted on that prompt (making sure to write students’ names in bold), comment on the developing discussion, and offer additional resources (e.g., documentaries, music, further readings, etc.). Students are not required to respond to this longer post, but I have heard back from students anecdotally that they appreciate the synthesis because often times it is “annoying” to sift through 20–30 original posts from their classmates.

Text of image: "Conversation with Geraldine Heng, 2019 AAR Book Award Winner" with cover of Heng's book, "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages"

Geraldine Heng discusses the obstacles in conceptualizing race in premodernity and the evidence for racialized thinking in the European medieval period. Heng is professor of English and comparative literature, with a joint appointment in Middle Eastern studies and women’s studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the founder and director of the Global Middle Ages Projects.

In this interview, she talks with Kristian Petersen about the research in her book "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages" (Cambridge University Press, 2018), which won AAR's 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Historical Studies.

This is a the first in a series of posts called A Proven Practice, an initiative of AAR’s Teaching Religion Program Unit and Committee on Teaching and Learning to collect and share faculty pedagogical techniques that have shown promise in the transition to online learning as a result of COVID-19. Do you have a successful technique to share with colleagues? Submit it for publication! Read on for Part II of A Proven Practice.


Flexible Live Discussions in Distance Education

In the spring of 2020, I taught a course entitled “Women’s Spiritual Experiences.” The primary aims of the course were to explore and reflect upon the depths and complexities of women’s spirituality across centuries, continents, and religious traditions. Functioning as a capstone in an undergraduate general-education curriculum, this course attracted students from a variety of majors. While I previously taught the course in a traditional manner, this past spring I “flipped” the classroom. Thus, the majority of content, quizzes, and written assignments were accessible via Moodle and completed independently by students. This structure allowed for our weekly gatherings to be a site of thoughtful question-asking, creative expression, and generative discussion.

Interview with Kristian Petersen

The construction and use of the fetish framework in European social theory is the focus of J. Lorand Matory's book, "The Fetish Revisited: Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make." In this conversation, Matory explains how social theorists based in Enlightenment principles deployed simplistic interpretations of Afro-Atlantic religious traditions as a way to prove to their European audiences the similar "foolishness" of European political, economic, and religious policies.

Matory is Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology and the director of the Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Project at Duke University. His book, "The Fetish Revisited," (Duke University Press, 2019), won AAR's 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Analytical-Descriptive Studies.

Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz talks about the textual and limited iconographic history of the mysterious Nepalese Hindu goddess Svasthani. Birkenholtz's book documenting her research into the goddess and the puranic texts that develop around her, "Reciting the Goddess: Narratives of Place and the Making of Hinduism in Nepal" (Oxford University Press, 2018) won the AAR's 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Textual Studies.

by Cecily Hill, National Humanities Alliance

National Humanities Alliance logo

As of this writing, colleges and universities around the nation have closed their doors; most have shifted to online learning. In-person public programs are on pause, indefinitely. For the majority of us, large components of our work have come to a screeching halt, while we have had to abruptly shift to scores of new personal and professional challenges.

At the National Humanities Alliance, we are continuing our work to document the impact of the humanities in a variety of contexts, but with a particular eye toward how humanities organizations and institutions are serving their communities and constituencies during this challenging time. We are also using this time to support humanities faculty, practitioners, and organizations as they plan for the future.

Lee H. Butler, Jr., PhD, Distinguished Service Professor of Theology and Psychology, Chicago Theological Seminary

Lee H. Butler, Jr. and Charles H. Long together

Dr. Charles Houston Long was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the time of legislated segregation. While his formative years were lived during a time of deep racial tensions, his personhood was nurtured within a crucible of Black intellectual excellence. He attended the premier Black school in Arkansas’ segregated public school system, Little Rock Dunbar Junior and Senior High School and Junior College. When the Dunbar school was being established, Black community leaders were committed to an institutional structure that would prepare students for college alongside a curriculum to provide students with labor-force skills. Recognized for its outstanding faculty and rigorous curriculum, Dunbar was the first Black school in Arkansas to be accredited by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges in 1931. Because education was regarded as one of the pathways to full citizenship, Dunbar Junior College placed emphasis upon educating people to become teachers. It is not coincidental, therefore, that Charles Long became a great scholar-teacher and a fierce advocate for intellectual rigor. He always looked for the sweat in a scholar’s work.

 

Today, we mourn the passing of Dr. Charles H. Long, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara, and past president of the American Academy of Religion (1973).

Dr. Long was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the time of legislated segregation. While his formative years were lived during a time of deep racial tensions, his life was nurtured within a crucible of Black intellectual excellence. He left Little Rock and volunteered for the United States Army Air Forces served in World War II. With strength of character, determination of will, critical intellect, and a commitment to academic excellence, he entered the University of Chicago earning the D.B. ‘53 and Ph.D. ’62, and was offered a faculty appointment at the University of Chicago Divinity School where he became a pillar in the framing of Religionswissenschaft (History of Religions).

Jessica L. Tinklenberg, Claremont Colleges

Empathy by John Edward Marin

In 2011, Sara Konrath and her colleagues published a study indicating that college students’ empathy skills seemed to be in steep decline.1 By reviewing the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) scores of college students between 1979 and 2009, researchers concluded that “Empathic Concern was most sharply dropping, followed by Perspective-Taking” and that much of the decline in these two subcategories of dispositional empathy had taken place in the previous decade.2 Konrath et al.’s meta-analysis launched a thousand Higher Ed think pieces and spawned a bevy of initiatives to introduce empathy into the college learning environment.

Bissera Pentcheva interviewed by Kristian Petersen

Bissera V. Pentcheva, winner of AAR's 2018 Award for Excellence in Historical Studies for her book Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium, talks about how digital technology, as applied to the ancient and medieval aural experience of the Hagia Sophia, makes it possible for historians to see, feel, and hear primary textual and liturgical sources in new ways.

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