When people ask why I study religion, I tell them that I came to this field through indecision. As a college undergraduate, I hopped from department to department, equally as enthralled with history and literature courses as I was with politics and art. I did not want to have to pick and choose only one of these areas as my major area of study. But when I recognized the common thread among these classes, it became clear to me that I could study them all through a focus on religion. Religious studies innately crosses departmental boundaries. It requires us to bridge academic divides because “religion” itself does not remain static in its own distinct sphere.
Subsequently, I believe strongly in teaching religion through interdisciplinary theories and methodologies and diverse concrete examples. We explore art and architecture in Tibetan Buddhism, use feminist theory to study New Age pilgrimage, or look to legal studies to understand religious sounds in public spaces. I endeavor to guide my students in learning to ask critical questions and to search for the complicated answers. We ask how religion and violence intersect, what makes sacred space sacred, and why religion is considered distinct from politics. We connect intellectual theories with lived experience, applying what we read in books and articles to what we observe in churches and mosques and what we see in the streets and in museum halls.
Above all, I am passionate about helping my students to bring their interests into the religious studies classroom and to carry their new perspectives on religion with them into the world.
This past winter (2015), I taught an upper-level graduate seminar on comparative religions and varieties of violence. In addition, I have designed various courses that revolve around issues of place, violence, politics, and law. These courses include:
- Discovering Religious Worlds: an introduction to world religions course that focuses on exploring various religions by looking at discrete facets of religion, from religious spaces and practices to philosophies and bodies.
- Sacred Spaces in America: a survey course that introduces students to American religious history by focusing on the religious spaces and places that cover the American landscape.
- Breaching the Wall of Separation: an upper-level course on religion, law, and politics that examines the linkages between these seemingly separate spheres through a range of geographically and historically diverse case studies.
- Religion and the Secular: an upper-level course that interrogates the idea of the secular and explores its manifestations in the United States, France, Turkey, and India.
- Lived Religion: an upper-level course on everyday religious life that instructs students in ethnographic approaches to the study of religion and guides them in conducting group ethnography projects.