Teaching fantasies: A small religion department

My thinking about teaching so far has naturally tended to be governed by where I currently am. When I was at CTS, then, I thought about how I would go about teaching their core theology curriculum (having TA’d for all the core courses at least once, and multiple times in the case of History of Christian Thought) and what kinds of changes I might suggest if I were on the faculty there.

As I’m currently teaching in a small religious studies department where I’m responsible for basically all their Christianity coverage, my thinking is now focused on that type of environment and how I would organize my course offerings if I were there for the long-term. It seems that having a stable cycle of courses over a couple years would be a good foundation, and in a quarter system I’d like to organize it like this:

Year One:

  1. New Testament
  2. Patristics
  3. Eastern Orthodoxy

Year Two:

  1. Augustine
  2. Western Medieval
  3. Reformation

Of course, my goal would be to make each class stand-alone, because obviously very few students are going to want to go through that entire cycle. Assuming a 2/2/2 load, I could then cycle in Hebrew Bible (if I would be responsible for that as well, rather than a Jewish studies person), contemporary courses (Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, Global Christianity, etc.), service courses (intro to religion, major seminars, philosophy of religion, etc.) — ideally along with the stray elective related to my research, like the Devil course.

Since my primary research interest in theology is doing constructive work by means of historical theology, this underlying cycle would be a perfect way to balance out my research needs and the need for broad coverage. I have enough background in all these historical areas to hit the ground running, and I have long been of the philosophy that survey-type courses should be viewed as an opportunity to actively expand my teaching and reading — so I’d cycle in new texts each time I offered each course, as I’ve already done when offering my patristic and medieval courses and plan to do when I repeat the medieval course again next year.

In addition to opening up unforeseen avenues for research, it could provide the foundation for writing a one-volume history of Christian thought or creating a solid anthology (or series of anthologies) for intro classes that would provide full texts or subtantial excerpts, as opposed to the 2-3 page snippets that seem to be standard for that kind of thing. That way, even if my constructive work was a forgotten footnote, I would’ve performed some service to the field and to future students.

The details of this plan might not work in any actual existing department — stretching the history survey over two years might seem indulgent — but I do like the idea of a small department because it would allow me to be a “jack of all trades” and actively push me to develop further in that direction. A small seminary might allow me similar opportunities.

18 thoughts on “Teaching fantasies: A small religion department

  1. For the tenure line that I’m filling the gap for, they wanted someone in Bible who could also supplement their Jewish studies offerings, in the interest of strengthening their Jewish studies concentration (currently they have one Jewish studies professor shared with the history department).

    I started doing further research on Judaism last summer in part to try to make a convincing case that I could stretch and give them what they wanted, but that kind of thing is always a long-shot given that they likely had dozens of applications that fit exactly their priorities.

  2. Good point. Someone has to teach them so that kids feel educated and sophisticated.

    On a serious note, is there a danger of being too marketable? Not in your case, but in general, you know? If you were reading a letter/CV combination and someone was too general and able to teach almost everything, wouldn’t it work against the candidate?

  3. What I mean is that different things will be disadvantageous with different hiring committees. At some schools, they might love the fact that I’m blogging, but at others, there might be a committee member who’s absolutely convinced that my blog shows I’m frivolous.

    Similarly for literally everything I do: there’s not much I can do to plan for how a group of 3-5 more or less random people from schools and departments (that each have their own internal cultures I can only know indirectly at best) are going to perceive me. All I can do is what I want — in this case, develop broad teaching competence in historical theology, or blog — and then I’ll hope that I’m a close enough fit somewhere.

    (I’m sometimes paranoid that I’m in the perfect “negative sweet spot” where I’ve managed to accumulate the perfect set of traits that makes me unhirable literally everywhere.)

  4. I have had an analogous phrase based on the concept of the “perfect storm” in development, but it hasn’t come to anything yet. Still looking for the right negator.

  5. “constructive work by means of historical theology”

    Is there a post brewing in which this constructive aspect is elaborated upon? I suppose I shall be told to wait until, say, Adam’s and Dan’s books are published. But I’m rather interested in the manner in which the transcendent will be expunged from the historical theology (presumably). I’m also interested in the what and why of that which is retained. (On a side note, has anyone read Ben Lazier’s book?Useful?)

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