I am passionate about teaching and mentorship; am committed to fostering academic excellence, creative problem solving, and intercultural and interdisciplinary discussions; and strive to embolden students to fulfill their potential in and outside of the classroom.
Teaching Philosophy and goals
Through teaching, I share my passion for the field by encouraging students to evaluate the ways in which religion affects the world and their community, in order to ultimately produce their own ideas and critiques about the role of religion in history. I have teaching expertise in American religious history and experience, environmental ethics, and Native American studies.
In all my courses, I facilitate a participatory learning experience where students engage critically and creatively with historical and contemporary issues. In American Gods, my introductory course to religion in America at Randolph College, I foregrounded the rich diversity of beliefs and practices in American life with special attention to ethnicity, immigration, and structures of power. My students encountered and learned to evaluate primary sources by working through them in class, honing their abilities to analyze and produce arguments about the complex factors that contribute to change over time. When reading particularly difficult texts, such as those dealing with violence, war, and slavery, I presented the material in a variety of ways. For example, when discussing slavery, we began with two texts: selections from Catherine Beecher on abolition and selections from slavery advocate George Armstrong. Working in small groups, students first observed and described the texts without analysis. This practice allowed students to first build on common concerns and confusions before sharing their evaluations with the entire class. After observation, as an entire class we discussed what the texts reveal about the authors, the historical period, and the questions we were left with. Finally, after all of the blocks have been built, we analyzed the hermeneutics of each piece. Students were often distraught to find Armstrong’s pro-slavery arguments appeared more persuasive when students relied on their default modes of interpretation. This provided an excellent opportunity for the students to think through how historical texts do not in and of themselves offer one hermeneutical guide, but require complex interpretive analysis. I have found this type of activity challenges learners to move from simple to more complex forms of thinking, brings students together as a class, and reminds them that religions are living traditions with social consequences.
As a means of engaging students in the living diversity of religious practices and beliefs, I instituted a material culture prelude at the beginning of each class, in which I presented an art piece, video clip, or religious object from the tradition we were about to discuss. We spent the first few minutes of every class working together to understand how our subjects might have used this particular object, the connections we see to the readings, and the questions we are left with. I have found that by attending to lived religion and the material lives of our subjects, students can contextualize religious experience and are more actively engaged in coursework and independent research projects.
My teaching philosophy is to always foster an environment of mutual support and inclusion. In Common Experiences, my first-year seminar at Randolph College, I employed a “yes, and…” policy, in which students were encouraged to listen and respond to the previous speaker before stating their own comments. Students felt open to voice their own opinions and questions, while respecting those of their peers, creating a tight-knit learning community and developing discussion skills. By creating an educational environment that recognizes and appreciates individual and group differences, I constantly strive to grow with my students as an inclusive teacher.
When conflict does arise in class, I guide students to unpack the multiple sides of an argument. For example, in Sustainability: Faith, Denial, Reason, the 30 upper-level students came from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, but often assumed everyone had the same upbringing. This came to a head when discussing how pollution and environmental degradation affects the poorest communities the most acutely. A few students struggled to see how the experiences of pollution in lower-income communities were the responsibility of other population groups. I provided examples both locally—the location of Durham’s industrial plants relative to the area’s poorest neighborhoods—and globally—overcrowded urban India’s reliance on biomass burning. I then asked students to piece-apart the layers of each case study to better understand the structures of power implicit and explicit in the creation and treatment of pollution. By providing real-world examples and asking the students to listen and respond to each other’s concerns and questions, I facilitated a space for my students to help each other think critically about the diverse perspectives and realities of environmental degradation. In all of my courses, I encourage students to think critically about difference and their location in the context of cultural diversity.
In my course Religion in a Global Context at Elon University, a first-year introduction to religious studies course, I empowered students to take ownership of their educational experiences. In order to create a student-centered and collaborative ambience, I made use of a learning management system, like Canvas, to post photos or short videos and engage students in online forum discussions and group projects. Students were free to consume the material at their own pace and ask questions prior to class. As the instructor, I gained insight into the concepts with which students struggled the most and was able to adjust the classroom activities accordingly.
I always encourage and engage students in the world outside of the classroom. In addition to extending our in-class discussions to pop culture and contemporary real-world issues, I taught students to use digital recorders and best practices for ethnographic inquiry. As part of the final project, students visited diverse houses of worship, met with community members to record oral histories, and uploaded the media files and transcripts to a digital map. This allowed students to visualize the movement of religious ideas and people and their connections to other aspects of life. Through the use of digital humanities, the diversity of students’ local community came to life. As an assistant professor, I will continue to move beyond the traditional teacher-centered lecture and use digital tools and methodologies to deepen students’ engagement with the material.
Open-ended inquiry and student led exploration paves the way for directed research projects. In Religion in Native North America at Randolph College, my upper-level students designed a focused research project and paper. Throughout the semester, students completed a number of stepping-stone assignments, building research skills, confidence in their own analytical voices, and improving their writing. First, students were responsible for leading discussion throughout the semester and briefly presented researched information about the author and the Native communities under discussion. This not only highlighted the diversity of perspectives we engaged, but also drew attention to issues of subjectivity and transparency, important aspects of decolonializing our methodologies. Next, students created an encyclopedia entry in which they synthesized information from multiple sources into a comprehensive and interactive online wiki. Then, students completed an annotated bibliography to evaluate and analyze sources for the final paper. Finally, the paper itself combined the acquired research skills and ability to compile diverse sources in a thesis-driven project. I met with students individually and in small groups to guide the creation of manageable and imaginative research questions, encouraging students to reflect together on course material and its connections to broader ideas. In future undergraduate and graduate courses, I will continue to privilege student research and guide the construction of interdisciplinary research questions and projects.
Teaching is a top priority of my academic career. I continuously seek to develop as a learning-centered teacher and to reflect on the success of my teaching methods. As a Teaching & Learning Coordinator at Duke University, I worked with faculty and staff to bring lectures and workshops on innovative teaching methods to my department. I acted as a mentor for master students in Duke's Religious Studies Department and regularly meet with students to discuss professional and academic development. As a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow, I worked closely with a professor known for her excellence in teaching at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC and was afforded the opportunity to observe and be observed in the classroom. I achieved a Certificate in College Teaching, and continuously seek to learn new methods for teaching at the college level, engage colleagues in conversations regarding pedagogy, and strive to be the best teacher I can be.
With training in religious studies from a liberal arts college, in environmental history from a public state school, and religious studies and environmental studies at Duke University, I am prepared to teach:
Religious History of the United States
Critical Theories and Methods in Religious Studies
Catholic Social Teaching
Religion and the Environment
Religion, Race and the Environment
American Environmental History
Religion and Politics