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Teaching Religion as an Agnostic

When I finally admitted to myself that I was an agnostic, I had already been teaching New Testament and the history of early Christianity for ten years or so, first at Rutgers in the mid 1980s and then at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill starting in 1988.   It comes as a surprise to some people when I tell them that my decision to leave the Christian faith made absolutely no difference at all, of any kind, in either what I taught or how I taught it.  I think people find that very strange indeed because they have a rather serious misconception about what it means to teach religious studies in a secular research university. Many people imagine that teaching religious studies is simply different from teaching anything else.  I think in part that is because they really haven’t given it much thought.  Religion, in this common view, is different from other fields of study and inquiry.  Political science, or history, or literature, or anthropology, or classics, or even philosophy – any of [...]

Teaching Religion in a Secular Environment

This little diversion of a thread was going to be a simply one-post on the talk I’ll be giving today to my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament class, where I spill the beans about what I personally believe and why.  But it’s turned into a four-post mini-thread on my views of the separation of church and state. So far it’s been all background – how my twelve years of higher education were all done in Christian confessional contexts, not in secular schools, even though all of my teaching has been in research universities.  Go figure. As I indicated in my previous post, as a PhD student I tried to broaden my range significantly so it would not look like I could do nothing except for textual criticism, the study of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament with the ultimate goal of figuring out what the biblical authors actually wrote.  My intention all along was to find a teaching position either in a divinity school/seminary (for the training of pastors) or in a Christian [...]

About Graduate Studies: A Blast from the Past

Two days ago someone asked me about doing graduate studies.  He had a master's degree and was wondering about whether to do a PhD.  I told him that if he could imagine doing something else with his life, he probably should do so.  Doing a PhD is just too painful.  It's long (in my field it typically takes about 6-8 years *after* doing a Masters; lots of students take longer), it's really hard, it's really painful, and there's no guarantee of a job when you 're finished.  If it's your passion, and you can't imagine doing anything else, you should do it (I told him).  But otherwise ... not so much. Looking back over old blog posts, I see that I talked about graduate studies almost exactly four years ago today.  Here is what I said then: ****************************************************************** I teach one undergraduate and one graduate course a semester. Teaching undergraduates is a passion of mine. I love doing it. These are nineteen year olds who are inquisitive, interested, and interesting. I enjoy lecturing to a [...]

Why Scholars Aren’t Trained To Write Trade Books

In yesterday’s post I talked about how books for a general audience -- trade books -- get their titles.   I’ve decided that I want to say something more broadly about the nature of trade books, and I’m going to do so in a rather circuitous way, by talking about why most scholars don’t (and can’t) write them.  It’s not at all a bad thing that they don’t, in my opinion.  We only need so many books for non-specialists on the Big Bang, the Civil War, and the historical Jesus.  All told, we probably have more than enough. Moreover – and this will be the point of this post and probably a few more to come -- trade books are not what scholars are trained to produced.  Scholars are trained to write serious research for other scholars.   And that’s what they spend their lives doing: advancing scholarship for experts in their fields.  That’s not only what most scholars want to do.  In many ways, it is the only thing they are actually trained to do. My [...]

2020-04-03T03:12:59-04:00August 11th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Departments of Religious Studies

In my previous post I began to address the question of what we look for when students apply to enter into our PhD program.   To make sense of what I have to say about that, I need to give yet more background into what our program *is*.   In my previous post I started discussing how programs of religious studies in secular colleges and universities began to appear after WWII. My department has always claimed to be the first full-fledged Department of Religious Studies in any state university in the country.  I’m not sure that’s true – I’ve heard that Virginia and one or two other schools make the same claim.  Maybe someone on the blog knows for sure.   What is certain is that our department started in 1946. There had been talk of starting a “School of Religion” at UNC in the 1920s.   I don’t know what that would have looked like – possibly a professional school training people in religion?  I’m not sure.   The plans didn’t go anywhere, since they were knocked off the [...]

2020-04-03T14:10:37-04:00January 13th, 2015|Teaching Christianity|
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