Teaching

My courses help students explore the dynamic cultural forces that shape religion in America and beyond, e.g. globalization, public formations, class, gender, race, sexuality, and discourses of authenticity. These same courses offer students various public-facing writing opportunities. Students learn how to create op-eds, journalistic articles, themed podcast episodes, and book reviews, and thus gain writing experience in multiple public-facing genres.

Scroll below or click on my links to read about my teaching philosophy, student mentoring, student projects, and selected courses.

Teaching Philosophy

My pedagogy seeks to cultivate critical empathy, a stance to the world that is simultaneously empathetic of others and critically aware of contingent, power-laden human relationships. I do so in the classroom by creating opportunities for empathetic observations; allowing such observations to be seasoned with reflexive analysis; and generating mediums and means that engage larger publics. For a fuller explanation, read my teaching philosophy statement.

Student Mentoring

As a mentor, I provide students with practical experience as researchers and published writers. For example, I have trained more than a half dozen student research assistants to conduct and code oral history interviews. Two of my students took our joint projects as a springboard for their own independent research and won prestigious off-campus summer research grants. Four of my past students have published book reviews that they first wrote and revised in my courses. In addition, I regularly consult with students about their graduate school applications. Many of my former mentees have gone to graduate school at some of the best programs in the humanities and social sciences, including the University of Chicago, the University of Virginia, Harvard University, and University College London.

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Student Projects

My courses engage students with public-facing writing opportunities. For example, students in my spring 2020 “Mormonisms” course created a seven-episode podcast detailing the experiences of women ordained in the Community of Christ/RLDS Church in the 1980s. In doing so, students conducted oral history interviews, wrote podcast scripts, and edited audio recordings. The finished podcast was titled by my students, “Women’s Rites: A Podcast about Women’s Ordination.” You can listen to each episode and read an accompanying essay on the companion website here. Students in my spring 2021 “Ordaining Women in America” course will add episodes to this series on women ordained in the Episcopal Church, Reform Judaism, and Soto Zen Buddhism.

In “American Gods: Religious Diversity in the US,” students created a virtual walking tour of Northampton, Massachusetts religious communities, a project featured by our local public library in their online newsletter in April 2020. To construct our virtual tour, students researched each religious tradition, conducted an ethnographic site visit to an assigned community, and published their research on our website.

Their finished entries include an explanation of each religious community and a 360-degree interior photo of each site, complete with clickable hot spots to explain significant objects in the image. Students in the fall 2020 updated each entry to detail how each community has adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic. You can also watch a presentation I gave about this project to my Smith College colleagues at a Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning luncheon.

Students in “Religion, Race, and Resistance” interviewed some of the leading scholars in the field and produced a podcast they named “Scholars Speak: Religion and Race in America.” You can listen to their episode featuring Princeton University’s Prof. Judith Weisenfeld, as well as another episode featuring Indiana University’s Prof. Sara Imhoff.

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Selected Courses

With a decade of teaching experience in the college classroom, I offer courses that broadly address religion in America, the anthropology of global Christianity, and methods and theories in the study of religion. Recent courses include the following:

Spiritual But Not Religious

The number of Americans who identify as spiritual, but who are not affiliated with any traditional religion, has doubled in the last twenty years. In this course, students will try to make sense of this phenomenon by studying what these Americans practice, such as mindful meditation, ethical eating, and forms of political activism. What is their lived experience? What counts as spirituality? Students will engage with primary and secondary sources on American SBNRs, and conduct original ethnographic research about spirituality at Smith College. (Course developed with Prof. Andy Rotman; versions taught fall 2020, fall 2019.)

This course evolved out of an ethnographic project I conducted with Skidmore students in which they studied the boundaries and shape of “spirituality” among their peers. At Smith College, Prof. Andy Rotman and I then developed this course dedicated to exploring spirituality in discourse and practice within the contemporary US.

Religion, Race, and Resistance in America

How has religion been used to construct race in America? How has race helped constitute religion? What can the shared histories of religion and race in America tell us about our culture and politics? And how have these understandings been used to foster resistance? This class examines these questions, from the era of colonization to the present, through a study of laws, uprisings, rituals, social movements, monuments, sacred texts, songs, theologies, and foodways. (Versions taught fall 2020, spring 2019.)

With readings that centered the voices of scholars of color, I designed this course for students to explore how the categories of “religion” and “race” have operated as discourses of governmentality within the US. In my most recent iteration of this course, students interviewed some of the leading scholars in the field and produced podcast episodes from these interviews.

American Gods: Religious Diversity in the US

The United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth. This course investigates that diversity, in the past and in the present, and explores traditions imported to America, recent traditions born in America, and/or traditions indigenous to the Americas. By doing so, this course asks how religious traditions shape and are shaped by other forms of difference (race, class, gender, age, sexuality, etc.). As part of this study, students engage in original ethnographic research to document the (online) religious diversity of Northampton, Massachusetts. (Versions taught fall 2020, fall 2019, spring 2019, spring 2018, fall 2018.)

I wanted to offer a re-imagined “religion in America” course in which students practiced multiple genres of writing, learned how to conduct ethnographic research, and studied “religion” in the US through multiple methodological lenses and with diverse case studies. This course is the result.

Globalization and Religion

This course investigates case studies from Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam that illustrate or complicate prevailing theories of globalization. With a historical focus that begins in the 1970s, we’ll encounter diverse peoples like a hugging Hindu saint in India who advocates for female empowerment, Congolese charismatic Christians worshipping in once empty London cathedrals, and Chicago Muslims who sell Halal meat at an eco-food cooperative. We’ll discuss subjects like globalization and localized violence in Hindu India, transnational sex politics in Christian Uganda, and cosmopolitanism in Muslim Mauritania. Together we’ll analyze how religions shape and have been shaped by the larger cultural, political, and economic processes that scholars call globalization. (Versions taught fall 2018, fall 2015.)

Springing from my research on the globalization of Mormonism in India and the Philippines, I designed this course to acquaint students with the wider scholarly literature, theories, and debates within the study of globalization and religion.

Mormonisms

Mormonism has gone from a religion of a few families to a global family of small sects and large denominations. This course explores the diversity of contemporary and historical Mormonisms. Topics for discussion include the creation of new scriptures; conflict between church and state; the dynamics of religious schism; temple spaces and the politics of secrecy; constructions of race, gender, and sexuality; missions and evangelism; modern pilgrimage; and the globalization of modern Mormonisms. In addition, students will conduct oral histories with various Mormons, including women ordained within a progressive Mormon church. (Versions taught spring 2020, spring 2018, spring 2016, spring 2014, fall 2011, fall 2010.)

The study of Mormonism can become an insular affair, and I wanted to design a course that showed how Mormon studies could reflect wider academic concerns. Like in my co-authored book Mormonism: The Basics, this course highlights how young religions diversify over time, and how multiple Mormonisms came to embody trends familiar in other religious communities (Americanization, conflicts over gender and sexuality, shifting constructions of race, settler-colonial dynamics, the strains of globalization, church-state tensions, etc.).

Pilgrimage

This seminar surveys pilgrimage practices in the contemporary world. Along our journey, we will analyze how pilgrimage intersects with questions of national identity, gender and sexuality, religious orthodoxy and heterodoxy, “the secular,” and popular culture. Our case studies will delve into the diverse ways that humans engage travel, shrines, and constructions of the sacred. Finally, we will reflect on the limits, utility, and generative possibilities offered by pilgrimage as an academic category. (Versions taught spring 2017, spring 2015, spring 2012, spring 2011.)

In graduate school, I passed a comprehensive examination on the anthropology of pilgrimage and wrote my dissertation on a contested Mormon pilgrimage site (published as my first book). This course evolved from those experiences and introduces students to the varied ways scholars have studied “pilgrimage,” past and present.

Ritual: Performance and Paradox

A central feature of religious traditions and lived religious experience, ritual is often thought of as repetitive, unchanging, and prescriptive. Yet, enacted rituals are often open-ended and allow considerable room for creativity and innovation. Through embodied action and symbolic drama, rituals serve complex functions of making meaning, deepening spirituality, performing cultural identity, and advocating for social change. In this course, students will study various theories of ritual and examine ritual practices (religious and secular) in diverse traditions and societies. For their final project, students will themselves participate in the process of ritualizing–that is, crafting new rituals. (Co-taught with Prof. Lois Dubin; taught spring 2020.)

This course was first developed by Prof. Lois Dubin at Smith College. I collaborated with her to add new units focused on ritual practice and new public-facing writing activities.

Ordaining Women in America

In the 1970s, many Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist communities in America began ordaining women as ministers, rabbis, priests, and teachers. This change in policy provided women long-denied vocational paths, necessitated new theological self-understandings and ritual forms, and served as a proxy for larger culture war divisions in America. While focused on the last fifty years, this course provides a wider historical context for these developments, from the bold revivalism of colonial-era women preachers to anti-racist activism by contemporary Zen senseis. As part of a larger project, students will conduct interviews with ordained women and construct podcast episodes from these interviews. (Taught spring 2021.)

My current research on Mormon women’s ordination movements, along with my spouse’s experience as a pastor and chaplain, led me to offer this course that more broadly investigates women’s ordination in the US, past and present. The course itself centers the voices of religious practitioners who have sought ordination and feminist scholars who have studied women’s ordination.

Native American Traditions

This course looks at the spiritual traditions of Native peoples within the lands that became the United States of America. We study how Euro-American colonization suppressed Native spiritual practices, how Native peoples resisted this suppression, and how Native peoples have used their spirituality as a resource for decolonization and well-being. Topics include sacred lands and sovereignty, Native feminisms and the revitalization of ceremony, religious freedom and traditional practices, foodways and contemporary traditions, Native ecologies and the climate crisis, and contemporary Native traditions in diaspora. We read works by Native and settler scholars and consider a range of contemporary methodologies. (Versions taught fall 2018, fall 2017, fall 2016, fall 2015, spring 2015, spring 2014, spring 2013, spring 2011.)

I studied under Prof. Michelene Pesantubbee (Choctaw nation) as a graduate student, serving as her teaching assistant on three occasions for a course titled “Introduction to Native American Religious Traditions.” Working with her and other native scholars, I have offered an ever-evolving version of this course, teaching it eight times at Kenyon College, Skidmore College, and Bowdoin College.

Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religion

This course examines prevailing definitions of what religion is, and current debates about how we should study it. We will survey some (but by no means all) of the most influential theorists and methodologies utilized in the academic study of religion. Our present selection emphasizes the impact made by the social sciences (sociology, anthropology, and psychology), while considering newer directions being taken in the discipline. Students will also develop their own research skills, further contributing to their critical examination of the relation between evidence and argument. (Versions taught fall 2017, fall 2016.)

My iteration of this standard religious studies course has two aims: to acquaint students with classic theories and explore how these theories have been revised, repristinated, or rejected; and to give students practical experience in conducting various forms of ethnographic research (questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, free-listing interviews, and pile-sorting activities).

Encountering Religion in its Global Contexts: An Introduction

In this course, we will encounter several theories of religion and assess their utility as we study four major religious traditions through classic texts and secondary articles. For each tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam), we will highlight two major analytic terms in the study of religion, such as sacred space, scripture, body, or ritual. Finally, we will consider how these categories, studied in class against a specific religious tradition, can illuminate or obscure understanding another religious community. (Versions taught fall 2018, spring 2017, spring 2016, spring 2015, fall 2014, spring 2014, fall 2013, fall 2012, fall 2010.)

This is my iteration of the standard “world religions” course offered at many universities. I have two primary goals in this course: to provide students with a gateway course for other religion courses offered by my colleagues in particular traditions; and to complicate student assumptions of what counts as religion and how this category works within academia and popular culture.

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