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, cultural geography, environmental ethics, and Native American studies. 

    In my course sections, I facilitate a participatory learning experience where students engage critically and creatively with historical and contemporary issues. For two semesters, I acted as a preceptor with a discussion section of 16 students for American Christianity, a required survey course at the Duke Divinity School. 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 present the material in a variety of ways. For example, when discussing slavery we begin with two texts: selections from Catherine Beecher on abolition and selections from slavery advocate George Armstrong. Working in small groups, students first observe and describe the texts without analysis. With difficult topics, this practice allows students to first build on common concerns and confusions before sharing their evaluations with the entire class. After observation, as an entire class we discuss what the texts reveal about the authors, the historical period, and the questions we are left with. Finally, after all of the blocks have been built, we analyze the hermeneutics of each piece. Students are often distraught that Armstrong’s pro-slavery arguments appear more persuasive when students rely on their default modes of interpretation. This provides an excellent opportunity for the students to think through how religious texts do not in of themselves offer one hermeneutical guide, but require complex interpretive judgments. I have found this thinking routine to be very useful in focusing students, bringing them together as a class, and reminding them that religions are living traditions with social consequences.

    My teaching philosophy is to always foster an environment of mutual support and inclusivity. In the second iteration of American Christianity I built upon my previous experiences and 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. With experience working with underrepresented communities as part of my pre-doctoral work and as an instructor with a diverse student body at Duke University, I am committed to creating spaces where students feel safe enough to bring their skills, strengths, culture, and background to class, and then guiding them on how to use these to participate in the curriculum. Student evaluations repeatedly highlight the inclusive class environment I work to build, noting I foster “a careful dialogue” between diverse students and encourage students to “hear a variety of arguments and perspectives,” noting the “discussion was always well facilitated yet never dominated.” 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. 

    In my Elon University course Religion in a Global Context, I empowered my 25 first-year 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 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 strive to encourage and engage undergraduate students in the world outside of the classroom. In the course Religion and Landscape, I aided undergraduate students in learning to use digital recorders and best practices for ethnographic inquiry. Students then met with community members to record oral histories and uploaded the media files and transcripts to a digital map, which 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’ own 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.

    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.

    Open-ended inquiry and student led exploration paves the way for directed research projects. In the course Race, Cinema, and Sacred Value, my 40 upper-level students were responsible for a final paper in which they had to design a focused research project incorporating the themes of religion, popular culture, and race. I met with students individually and in small groups to guide the creation of manageable and creative research questions, encouraging students to reflect together on course material and its connections to broader ideas. Through detailed feedback on weekly response papers, students built confidence in their own analytical voices and effectively improved their writing. Students appreciated my "kind and constructive comments" on writing assignments and found my "feedback and input" to be "incredible." 

    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: