Stumbling Along Between the Immensities: Reflections on Teaching in the Study of Religion

Patton, Kimberly. “Stumbling Along Between the Immensities: Reflections on Teaching in the Study of Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65, no.4 (Winter 1997): 831-849.

Kimberly Patton begins by recounting an unexpected reaction in her students during a course that she taught on ancient Near Eastern, Homeric and Biblical archeology. While considering an ancient depiction of a lamentation over death, several students were moved to tears. This experience led Patton to reassess her role as a junior faculty member. She notes the secondary status that teaching has in academia, the lack of pedagogical preparation that graduate students receive, and the increasing carelessness of teacher-student relationships.
Patton suggests that religious studies in particular has been “denatured” to fit into the objective value system of modern academia. She lists myths of teaching that she was told as a student, and then she compares these with the realities that she has encountered in the classroom. For example, Patton questions the myth that students are only concerned with being objective and, therefore, will not engage in serious reflections. Her students have welcomed engaging discussions, regardless of their faith background. They seem to understand that the study of religion is unique in nature, and they are prepared to consider life’s challenges on deep and significant levels. Because of the students’ desire to embrace these issues, Patton feels that it is imperative that religious studies professors re-engage with their students so that they can encourage learning experiences that “set the ordinary world on fire.” (KH)