May 30 2024

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.

Countering the narrative that Langston Hughes was uninterested in religion, scholar and author Wallace Best describes the poet as an "avid and eclectic churchgoer" who returned time and again to the question, construction, and meaning of salvation in American religious history.

Wallace Best's book Langston's Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem (NYU Press, 2017) won the 2018 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Textual Studies category, presented by the American Academy of Religion. He is professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University.

by Deonnie Moodie, University of Oklahoma

Anne Monius, professor of South Asian religions at Harvard Divinity School, died on August 3, 2019. Anne was a member of the AAR for nearly thirty years where she served as editor of the Religion in Translation book series (2005–2014); associate editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2006–2010); chair of the Jain Studies program unit (2009–2011); and presider, panelist, and respondent in dozens of Annual Meeting sessions throughout her distinguished career. Colleagues and friends will remember her work and contributions to the field during this year's AAR Annual Meeting in San Diego. The details for that session appear below this remembrance, written by one of Anne's students, Deonnie Moodie, who is now assistant professor of South Asian religions at the University of Oklahoma.

Anne’s wedding present to me was a wall hanging, a colorful tapestry featuring Ganesh, Lakshmi, and an array of beautiful pastoral images. Her card indicated that I was to hang it over my marital bed to ensure the birth of sons. After a lengthy bout of laughter with my partner about the very intimate nature of this gift from my PhD advisor—a woman widely admired and even feared for her intellectual prowess—I had two thoughts. The first was, “And she’s funny too!” and the second, “She can’t seriously want me to have a baby, right? Does she have any idea how long that would delay my dissertation?”