Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Instituting Religion: Closing Remarks

Finally, here are my closing remarks that I gave during the closing round-table discussion:

I originally envisioned this conference as an ongoing dialogue. And I attempted to implement this in the very organization of the panels. The panels, in some ways, can be seen as interactive, with later panels commenting on the topics of earlier panels. With this in mind, I created the closing discussion as a “respondents’ panel,” in which the respondents could take the insights from their panels and put them directly into dialogue with one another in order to identify cross-panel themes as well as identify a few gaps in the conference, providing fertile directions for further inquiry. (Unfortunately, our third respondent, Jack Hawley, could not be with us, and so I am going to fill in for him, but by no means are my comments or interests reflective of his.)

Bracketing issues suggested in the call for papers but not really discussed today, one key aspect of the institutional shaping of religion that has briefly emerged in this conference and should receive serious sustained interrogation as we move on from this setting is pedagogy. In fact, I was discussing this with Adam Lobel, and told him if I were to organize this conference all over again, I would have called for a panel on pedagogy. Indeed, we are primarily hired as professors in order to teach. And so how we teach what we teach and navigate the vagaries of funding, student interest in particular subjects, student expectations of certain topics, and institutional habits of course development (even how course titles are negotiated between student interests and “inherited” courses) will shape how religion is understood as we present it primarily to our undergraduate students.

When it comes down to it, who reads our research? How many people will read my dissertation and our scholarly monographs? Versus how many people will we teach? And, in this instance, how textbooks for such courses are used (or ignored) and how those books present “religion/s” to students, whether upheld or deconstructed by the instructor, have great impact, in my opinion, for the dissemination of our understandings or misunderstandings of what we study. We should think of how we communicate (or do not communicate) with our students engaging both their and our assumptions (Luke’s discussion of competitive economies of knowledge may be helpful here). Thus, in teaching, how we do what we do develops in interaction with institutional habitus (so to speak) as well as student interest and expectation. The exact analysis of these interactions at various institutions would be an important contribution to the concerns we have investigated today. (Adam’s analogy [given in the discussion period of the first panel] of seminar reading practices versus Buddhist monastic reading practices of the same text producing different forms of knowledge illustrates this point quite well.)


jodi said...

with regards to pedagogy and its importance--- I couldn't agree more. Out here in post-grad school land, it's teach, teach, teach, and so far the numbers game for those I teach versus those who read my work is faaaar on the teaching side.

A few thoughts--

1) I think people in the field are gradually, very very slowly realizing the importance of teaching, but it's still rare to think about it in an interesting and theoretical way (or, a way that puts theory into practice).

2) Good teaching should find a way of connecting teaching with research, bringing our work into the classrooms and our classroom experiences into our work. I have yet to do this well this year, but the adjunct class I did last year kind of did this. There's a lot of lip service given to this general idea of "the teaching scholar" in higher ed, but I haven't found a lot of good models for this yet

3) Teaching is contingent upon context. I'm teaching at an institution that is very different (demographically, in terms of load, and in terms of budget) from those at which I got my BA and PhD, and a lot of teaching ideas that worked elsewhere may not work here (and vice versa). Some can crossover. But academe in general has to recognize the vast differences among schools, and sadly, this comes down in many ways to questions of money-- schools with big budgets can do things that schools with ever-shrinking public financing cannot always do. Professors teaching a 2-2 load can put more time into each class than professors teaching a 3-3- or 4-4- load.

And of course, even at a teaching institution like mine, 40% of renewal/tenure is still based on research--- which explains why this tends to dominate academic conversations. Unless the where one's dinner is served changes, we'll all keep short-shrifting the pedagogy side of this equation.

Jared Calaway said...

Thanks for these comments, Jodi. Good to hear from you. I hope things are going well out there!

I think it is important to bring the practical experience of teaching into a broader theoretical discussion and vice versa. Also the contextual aspect you raise seems very integral in this discussion, in terms of funding structures, hiring and advancement expectations (in the varying weights of teaching, research, and university service), and, especially in religion, whether or not a school is public or private, and, if private, officially associated with any particular religious group or not (although sometimes the difference between public and private, in terms of funding and government grants, can get a bit complicated). And then applying your research to teaching and vice versa does appear to be quite a tricky business (especially since areas of teaching tend to be broader than areas of research), but that is a way to keep your teaching vibrant--since the enthusiasm for your research subject can more easily rub off or show through.