Personal Statement/Teaching Philosophy
In my courses we look at religion where you would expect to find it (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc.) as well as places where you might not (the Mall in Washington D.C., Elvis's Graceland mansion, science fiction films, and TV's The Simpsons, to name a few).
In a nutshell, I take a broad view of religion and spirituality that explores the diverse ways that religion interacts with modern culture. In the classroom, I encourage an open and fairminded approach to religious subjects, as well as lively discussion. My basic goal is to help students to understand the motivations and actions of religious individuals and groups, even those (especially those!) with beliefs and practices that are challenging and different.
I don't shy away from controversial subjects. In fact, I believe that Religious Studies offers some of the most interesting and valuable perspectives on contempoary issues that you will find in the course catalog. For example, why do so many Americans (perhaps 45% according to polls) reject the Darwinian theory of evolution? What is the connection between religious belief and violence in groups like Al Qaeda and the Branch Davidians? Are new technologies like cloning and genetic screening tantamount to "playing God"? The comparative and historically informed methods of Religious Studies can help you begin to answer these questions.
In addition to Religious Studies, I also coordinate the Individual Student Programs (for students who design their own majors). Details here. In my spare time, I enjoy relaxing in a geodesic dome, swimming, hiking in the Catskills, mountain biking, and clay pot cooking.
- Introductory: Religious Diversity in America, Religious Cults, Religion and Popular Culture
- Intermediate: Religion and Science, Studying Religion: Voodoo
- Advanced: Religion and Medicine, Religion and Technology
Among my recent publications are essays on the religious views of the poet Walt Whitman, scientists Charles Darwin and Carl Sagan, and nuclear safety technician Homer J. Simpson. I am also working on a book that examines why Americans got so enthusiastic about the pseudo-science of phrenology in the decades before the Civil War.
"Charles Darwin," "Carolus Linnaeus," "Thomas Robert Malthus," "Carl Sagan," "Alfred Russel Wallace," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (London: Continuum International, 2005). Link
"Science Fiction" in Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity, and Popular Expressions (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, Fall 2003). Link
"Phrenology and Religion in Antebellum America and Whitman's Leaves of Grass" Mickle Street Review: An Electronic Journal of Whitman and American Studies, 15 (Summer 2002). Link
Review of The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, eds. Christopher H.Evans and William R. Herzog. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 1 (Spring 2002). Link
"Homer the Heretic and Charlie Church: Parody, Piety, and Pluralism in The Simpsons" with Eric Mazur and Monica Siems, in God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture (New York: Routledge Press, Fall 2000).
"Phrenology," in The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000). Link
"Combe, George," "Eugenics," "Fletcher, Horace," "Fowler, Orson," "Gall, Franz Joseph," "Galton, Francis," "Heroic Medicine," "Homeopathy," "Haeckel, Ernst," "Kellogg, John Harvey," "Lamarkianism," "Phrenology," "Popper, Karl," "Spurzheim, Johann," and "Spontaneous Generation," in The Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience (New York: Facts on File, 2000). Link