Meet the Bloggers Day 3: Stephanie Frank

Today we introduce our third educator for who will be posting on the Craft of Teaching blog this year, Stephanie Frank (Columbia College Chicago)! Find out more about Stephanie below…

CoT: What was your area of focus and year of graduation (or expected graduation) at the Divinity School?

History of religions, 20152q

CoT: What do you most wish you had learned about teaching as a doctoral student? (and/or) What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?

I wish I had learned how central it is to the project of teaching to secure buy-in from students—and how that entails very different things in different contexts and among different student populations.

CoT: Briefly describe a course you’ve never taught but would like to.

I have always wanted to teach a class that tries to make sense of the category of ‘political theology.’ I am especially interested in the relationship of historical claims about the relation of theological and political ideas to various constructive/normative projects.

CoT:  If you could co-teach a course with any person alive or dead, who would it be and why?

I really regret that I never had a chance to study with Jonathan Smith; I can’t even imagine how much I would learn from co-teaching with him, both about religion and about teaching.

CoT: You’ve been bitten by a radioactive _____ and your new superpower of _____ has instantly made you a more effective teacher.

I don’t know what radioactive bite would communicate it, but I think the superpower of silence—of being willing to ask a question and then just wait—is a powerful improvement to teaching.

Meet the Bloggers Day 2: Sean Hannan

Today we introduce our second blogger in the Meet the Boggers series: Sean Hannan (Assistant Professor in the Humanities at MacEwan University). Find out what he thinks about radioactive angels below…

CoT: What was your area of focus and year of graduation (or expected graduation) at the Divinity School?

History of Christianity; graduated 2016 (Summer Convocation — perhaps the last one ever?)

CoT: What do you most wish you had learned about teaching as a doctoral student? (and/or) What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?

I found that attending the Craft of Teaching sessions and doing some teaching of my own (in the College Core, Graham School, and at St. Xavier on the Southwest Side) left me with a good deal of experience heading into my first actual day on the job. If anything, I suppose what I would have most benefitted from would have been more discussion of how to translate teaching material from a UChicago Core or liberal arts model into the more survey- and lecture-intensive atmosphere of most other post-secondary institutions. Ideally, the use of, say, digital tools in the classroom would not be the sole skill learned in one’s pedagogical training. But what if you wind up in a setting where the use of such learning tools is strongly encouraged? Are there ways to bring the best of Chicago-style academics to bear upon other kinds of learning environments? What kinds of specific strategies should we be testing out before we find ourselves in front of big classes full of students with their own unique sets of expectations?

CoT: Briefly describe a course you’ve never taught but would like to.

I’d love to teach a survey or seminar on the history of different ideas about time. Even limiting ourselves to the ‘Western’ tradition, we could glean a lot from a march through the diverse definitions of time offered up by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Al-Razi, Hasdai Crescas, and so on and so on. “Time” is a word that gets thrown around in a lot in different academic contexts, but I seldom see many attempts to attack the topic directly. Doing so would hold interest not just for students of philosophy, history, and religion, but also for those who want to put intellectual history into conversation with contemporary questions. (How many pop-science articles about “what science tells us time really is” pop up on our Facebook feeds?) Luckily, it looks like my new institution might be giving me the chance to put together such a class for upper-level undergraduates next year. Fingers crossed!

CoT: Who was a teacher you had as an undergraduate who inspires how you teach today?

Two of my undergraduate professors at the University of Alberta really made a meaningful impression on me and my academic trajectory so far. The first, Dr. Kitchen, taught me that you can look at ancient and medieval history in fresh and exciting ways, rather than sticking to the staid textbook line. The second, Dr. Gow, used to hold reading groups–sometimes extracurricular, sometimes for credit–that allowed students to push beyond the usual offerings found in the everyday curriculum. By letting us help design the reading list, no matter how ambitious it became, Dr. Gow gave us the chance to test out our own intellectual limit-cases, rather than sitting passively in the back row of some lecture hall. If I can leave any of my students with that sense of intellectual possibility and open-endedness, which I definitely received from Dr. Kitchen and Dr. Gow, I’ll be more than satisfied.

CoT:  If you could co-teach a course with any person alive or dead, who would it be and why?

I would team-teach a course on the philosophy of time and the use of historical narrative with Chicago’s own Paul Ricoeur. A close second place would be co-teaching a course on the relationship between religion and historical consciousness with Karl Löwith. Third place would be a course on Neoplatonic and Aristotelian theories of time in late antiquity (which become astoundingly complicated!) with the historian of philosophy Richard Sorabji. (I’m not sure if anyone would sign up for that one, but I’d love to do it all the same.) In any of these cases, I’d stand a much better chance of accomplishing my ‘dream course’ (as outlined in a response above) than I would trying to do it all on my own.

CoT: You’ve been bitten by a radioactive _____ and your new superpower of _____ has instantly made you a more effective teacher.

I’ve been bitten by a radioactive angel and my new superpower of directly beholding the Word of God has instantly made me a more effective teacher, since I now have unmediated access to the rational causes underlying the vast architecture of the universe in its entirety. (Sorry, I’ve been reading a lot of Augustine lately…)

Meet the Bloggers Day 1: Anne Mocko

Welcome back to the Craft of Teaching blog and to the start (for us late bloomers in Swift Hall, anyway) of another academic year! After our summer hiatus, we are delighted to announce that we are following upon the success of last year’s blog conversation between five alumni bloggers within the first ten years of their graduation with another, similar cohort of Divinity-school trained scholars & educators in the diverse domains of religious studies.

Like last year, we begin with a “Meet the Bloggers” series in which we will introduce this year’s Bloggers in Digital Residence. Over the course of the year, they will share their reflections and experiences teaching religion in a variety of disciplines and institutional contexts, in productive counterpoint with the Craft of Teaching programming taking place at the Divinity School.

Today, we are happy to welcome Anne Mocko, Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia College.

Craft of Teaching: What was your area of focus and year of graduation (or expected graduation) at the Divinity School?unnamed

Anne Mocko: I was in History of Religions, and I graduated in 2012. I took qualifying exams in Hinduism, Buddhism, and critical theory, and wrote a dissertation about Hinduism, politics, and ritual in modern Nepal.

CoT: What do you most wish you had learned about teaching as a doctoral student? (and/or) What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?

AM: I’m not actually sure how to answer this, because I learned a lot about teaching and had quite a bit of teaching experience while I was still a doctoral student. But I guess the steepest learning curve came from having to balance teaching multiple courses at the same time: as a grad student I had only ever taught one course at a time, and so that course had all of my attention. Trying to juggle multiple courses unfolding at the same time is a rather specific skill, but I’m not sure anyone could have taught me how to do it.

CoT: Briefly describe a course you’ve never taught but would like to.

AM: I really want to teach an undergraduate seminar around Jain practices, as both a content course and an experiential course. I envision week by week having the class learn about different categories of actions Jains pay attention to, and different things Jains renounce or avoid—and then all of the students being required to go out and experiment with renouncing or avoiding practices from that category. I think it would open up all kinds of conversations about American consumer culture, and what it means to live a religious and moral life.

CoT: Who was a teacher you had as an undergraduate who inspires how you teach today?

AM: I had a lot of great professors as an undergraduate, but I think I might pattern my own teaching most closely off Isabelle Kinnard, a New Testament scholar (and UChicago alum) with whom I took “Synoptic Gospels” as a college senior. Prof. Kinnard was able to convey both a deep love and seriousness for her subject, while also expressing a profound appreciation for the ways her subject could be odd or perplexing or ridiculous, which I think is something of a Chicago ethos that helped send me to grad school. She struck a successful balance between providing information for us (lecturing) and inviting our debates (discussion), which I try to deploy in my own classes, and her class introduced me to the pedagogical power of close reading.

CoT: If you could co-teach a course with any person alive or dead, who would it be and why?

AM: The two guys from Car Talk. I’m not sure exactly what subject we would teach, but they are so magnificent at explaining something that I don’t really understand or care about, in a way that makes me understand and care about it, that I can’t see how we could go wrong.

CoT: You’ve been bitten by a radioactive _____ and your new superpower of _____ has instantly made you a more effective teacher.

AM: Panda bear ; sitting silently while a student rethinks and finds an answer for themselves.

On Suits, Shoes, and Professionalization

Last fall I was at a workshop—at Princeton, to flash some “professional” credentials at the start.  My colleague and fellow blogger Lauren Osborne was there, too—even more “professional” than me, because she had submitted a paper for the group to discuss.  She and I were standing outside a room waiting for a key-note to begin, and we were talking about this gig, the blog, and the Craft of Teaching program more broadly, which we understood as an initiative in response to a long-standing lack of emphasis, on behalf of the Divinity School, to issues of “professionalization.”  We said something, one of us, to the effect that this was a good thing, getting grad students to think about academia as a profession, helping folks prepare for and land jobs. Continue reading

Employment is the New Citizenship: The Liberal Arts in the Global Economy

I would like to circle this discussion of Peter Kaufman’s article back to the academic discipline of religious studies. In general terms, Kaufman encourages humanities teachers to work together with our colleagues in pre-professional programs to find ways to make sense of humanistic study as contributing to the professional development of students. This is insofar as those students will become professionals, and even leaders in their professions, for whom the challenge of responding to the unfolding exigencies of their work lives will require skills beyond those learned in their pre-professional classes. They will require, Kaufman writes, the skills we teach in the humanities. Continue reading

Laboral Arts

I am pleased to follow Rick Elgendy and Lauren Osborne in contributing to the Craft of Teaching blog’s quarter-long discussion of the relationships between liberal education and professionalization in academe, with reference to Peter Kaufman’s article “Education for Professional Leadership in the Humanities: Exhortations and Demonstrations.”

It seems clear from reading these thoughts by my colleagues that the conversation about the “crisis of the humanities” is a conversation about many other things, as well. Starting out from a consideration of the purpose of a liberal arts education, it moves quickly to such grand themes as the nature of the human being, the structure of society, and the struggle against injustice. A grand (if not grandiose) list of concerns, to which I cannot resist adding one more: the alienation of spirit and body. Continue reading

Academe as Labor

As Rick Elgendy mentioned in his recent post, “Pedagogy in the Humanities and Professional Leadership,” the Craft of Teaching Religion blog is hosting a quarter-long conversation on the relationship between liberal education and the increasing calls for increased professionalization in higher education. As the second contributor to that series of posts, I continue the conversation here. Continue reading

Pedagogy in the Humanities and Professional Leadership

This quarter, the Craft of Teaching blog is hosting a sustained conversation on the uneasy coexistence of liberal education in the humanities and professional training in contemporary higher education.  The tension between faculties, the shifting administrative focus of energy and resources to the professions, the apparent impatience of many students with the “impractical” arts and humanities – all of these are well-documented (and frequently bemoaned).  But need this relationship be tense?  How can each play a role in majors and programs traditionally constituted by the other?

Continue reading

The Balancing Act of Major Design

Prior to undertaking a department-wide redesign of our major, I never would have realized how complex the conversation can be between the opportunities and constraints of institutional context and parameters. Although it sounds obvious in retrospect, one’s ideals about how best to instill in undergraduates robust and critical understandings of our discipline must be balanced with institutional concerns that may arise on a variety of levels. In this post, I take a pragmatic approach in considering the nuts and bolts of a religion major. While this approach does raise the issue of theoretical concerns of defining the discipline in conversation with learning goals that we decide we ought to instill in students, I approach these matters from the bottom up, so to speak. Continue reading

Teaching from Both Head and Heart

Once, at a senior ministry project presentation, I turned to Prof. Richard Rosengarten and said, “What’s the difference between a seminary and a divinity school?”  “I don’t know,” he replied with a grin, “what is the difference between a seminary and a divinity school?”  I was a little embarrassed to tell him that this wasn’t the setup to a great joke, but a sincere question. Continue reading

Interdisciplinarity and the Classroom

Interdisciplinary! It’s not just a buzzword—it’s a way of life! Or maybe it’s just a buzzword? I’ve been thinking lately about the ways in which interdisciplinarity, which seems relatively easily saleable in the context of job applications and administrative newsletters, relates to teaching, and especially to teaching upper-level courses. Continue reading