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?
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.