Faculty in Action
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
BA, Emory University
Cert., University of Amsterdam
MA, M.Phil., Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
I am teaching: Introduction to Religious Studies; Engaging the Bible, Quest for Meaning; Freshmen Honors Colloquium; Bible and Culture: American Film; Apostle Paul: Religion and Politics; Jesus in Ancient and Modern Media; Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies. In January 2011 I will also be teaching a Winter Term course, New Religions and Social Change. In that course, we'll travel to various places associated with what are commonly called "cults" in the American imagination.
Areas of expertise: My areas of expertise include Pauline studies; early Christian history and historiography; the Greek, Jewish, and Roman imperial contexts of the New Testament writings, particularly ancient visual representation and architecture; the interdependence of visual and literary materials, ancient and modern; the study of gender and sexuality; theories and methods in the study of religion; and teaching and learning in religious studies.
Current research or projects: In the last few years, I have published a book, Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul's Mission (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), as well as several articles in Pauline studies. I've chaired or co-chaired two international conferences on Paul and his legacies, and am active in the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion. I've also participated in two workshops given by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, and have done research and have published on pedagogies of biblical and religious studies. This summer, I'm serving as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. My colleague, Professor Todd Penner at Austin College (Eckerd's "sister school" in Sherman, Texas) and I are conducting research toward a co-authored book project, De-Introducing the New Testament, the essential aim of which is to critically engage introductory New Testament textbooks. We're spending a lot of time with archival materials from the last 150 years, and we're charting how our discipline has developed over time. You can read more about this project at the 2010-2011 Scholars in Residence at the Burke Theological Library website. The best thing about this project is that we have two Eckerd students and one Austin College student along with us, working on their own projects and talking with us about teaching and learning in biblical studies. These students are serving as invaluable conversation partners.
Q & A
Why did you decide to become a college professor?
I really believe in, and try to practice, one key aspect of what I consider to be the liberal arts tradition: education is not about preparing for a job, but about learning how to engage the world as it was and is in order to understand and transform it. In my view, that's the central question for all of us—what kind of world do we want to inhabit, and what will we contribute toward that end? There's nothing more exciting to me than learning, with my students, how to critically engage the world and imagine a different future. That, ultimately, is why I consider it my life's work to be in the college classroom.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at Eckerd?
I think of myself primarily as a lifelong learner. My students are creative and they teach me things every day. Eckerd faculty members are equally creative and collaborative. In the Letters Collegium, for example, students will find a group of faculty who are passionate about what we do, individually and together. We are generous with each other's work, always sharing and seeking to make our classroom experiences better. Frankly, this is the teaching situation I always imagined.
How would you describe Eckerd students?
Passionate, courageous, curious, driven, and full of humor and good will. Eckerd students care about each other and the world.
What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college?
I really like the phrase "responsible innovation" to describe Eckerd's educational mission and ethos. We try to understand where we are now through attending to where we've been. We work hard, and we value the process of making connections between disciplines. We encourage adventurous, yet intelligent and informed, approaches to knowledge and life.
What is the best thing a student has ever said in your class?
Eckerd students say "best things" all the time! I would say that the best moments in our classroom work are those moments when students express a deep desire for learning and critical engagement. This happens in a variety of ways around here - when Eckerd students work together with their professors, the resultant intellectual community is amazing and, frankly, I never tire of it!
How do you describe your teaching style?
As a teacher, I assume that my students take responsibility for their learning. I often ask students to help me craft a part of a syllabus, or work with me to think through what kinds of assignments they'd like to be doing in class that will best help their learning process.
How do you encourage your students to ThinkOUTside?
I think about the study of religion beyond a simple assemblage of facts about "what people believe" - religion is one of the most important aspects of humanity, and if we don't think expansively about what that means, then we cannot think expansively about humanity. For example, my students and I encounter the writings of new religious movements such as People's Temple (otherwise known as "Jonestown") alongside more historically established groups. Both, in my view, are interpreters of the Bible. We think outside of who's right and who's wrong - we want to try to understand what different interpretations say on their own terms, and what we can learn from such understandings about the complexity of sacred texts in different contexts.