OBJECTIVES

My teaching brings Jewish history to life by training my students to use all available historical sources and a variety of approaches to explore the past in a learning environment that engages them actively with primary materials. The strategies I employ in the classroom are anchored in three main learning outcomes that I want my students to leave my class with:

1 An interest in the academic study of religion
2 A greater appreciation for cultural and religious difference
3 An ability to incorporate alternative sources of historical information (e.g. material and visual culture). 


BRINGING RELIGIOUS HISTORY TO LIFE

Getting students interested in this kind of academic study of religion is complicated by the  historical distance between my subject matter and my students. To overcome this divide, I create ample space in class discussion to reflect on the modern relevance of our topic and the connections between past and present. I like to give students two particular primary texts: selections from Josephus writing for a Roman audience in Against Apion (c. 100 C.E.) and a copy of the Assembly of Jewish Notable’s “Answers to Napoleon” (1806), redacted to remove all information that would locate the document in 19th c. France. After reading the documents and comparing the cultural issues and Jewish responses in each, I ask them to try to determine the historical contexts of each. From this discussion, we discover as a class the timelessness of human experience and the many of the issues present when one culture interacts with another, recurring issues which confront Judaism in different times and places. Qualitative comments from my students indicate that my courses bring history to life and that I am “great at giving vivid, in depth descriptions of what it would be like to live in the classical world.”   


A FOCUS ON INCLUSIVITY  

My commitment to inclusive scholarship supports diversity and fosters equity and is demonstrated in the nature of my research and through the tenor and topics of my courses. My research and teaching are united by fundamental questions of cultural interactions in the ancient world which took place in the colonial and diaspora contexts amidst imbalances of power and differences in culture and religion. The study of Jewish history, for me, is the study of ethnicity, race, gender and social status in the ancient world and its impact on Jewish communities. 

I have  made fostering an appreciation for cultural and religious difference–and different historical experiences –a core component of my teaching philosophy and courses. This is grounded in my research into how Jewish communities are shaped by global contexts and identity within the broader cultural world they live in. My courses engage students in questions of ethnicity, race and gender, as well as religious identities and the politics of power in cultural contact. This type of inquiry challenges them to think deeply about the ways in which religious identities are created and the constructedness of religious boundaries that we erect between ourselves and others.

I recognize that exploring history from new and alternative perspectives can be an unsettling experience, one that can challenge deep convictions about religion that many may already hold. I overcome initial reluctance to hold religious traditions up to critical inquiry by creating a learning environment that is respectful of personal beliefs and experiences without forfeiting academic rigor. I set the tone for discussion early and often throughout the semester, especially in the context of sensitive discussions. My students appreciate being able to reflect on such important issues in an environment of mutual respect. My positive evaluations for creating a classroom environment of mutual respect (5.89 and 5.85 / 6) while also stimulating critical thinking and productive discussion (5.76 and 5.83 / 6 and 4.67 / 5 respectively) indicate that my students appreciate being able to reflect on such important issues in an environment of mutual respect. 


TAKING AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH 

The interdisciplinary nature of my own research on cultural artifacts has spurred me towards teaching that introduces students not only to religious texts and practices but also to the study of alternative sources of knowledge about the past, from architecture and urban planning to ancient art and burial practices. My courses  engage students with diverse methodological approaches drawn from cultural anthropology (particularly theories of social practice and decoloniality), visual culture and classical archaeology in order to uncover different experiences–and different identities–in Late Antiquity. For example, my course “Being Jewish in the Classical World”, combines primary materials drawn from archaeology, art and text to to explore different aspects of the historical experience of the ancient Mediterranean. Thematic units include art in the diaspora, archaeology and cultural resistance, and architecture and the urban experience of spectacle and display. Among the issues and contexts we explore are diaspora, cultural resistance, and the urban experience of spectacle and display. In my Hebrew Bible survey course I devote substantial time to the role of gender in the Hebrew Bible, with units on the role of women in the textual tradition and in ancient Israel. These units, which include sections on the the creation narrative(s), the p/matriarch narratives, and wisdom literature, provoke some of the most rewarding discussions and form an sustained theme of inquiry throughout the course.

For most of my students, the use of such sources is new and challenging. To help students navigate new materials, I create an active learning environment in which students engage with primary sources directly, in class, and together with peers. My use of lightning debates is a popular teaching strategy among my students and has shown to lead to stimulating and productive discussions that prize critical thinking and engaging our evidence in support of statements. I typically organize these around a pair of secondary readings that model the use of new sources for students while taking different positions on the same historical question (eg. the impact of urban architecture on Jewish culture in Roman Palestine). Students are thus primed with conflicting historical arguments, and are forced to work through these positions and the supporting evidence in a collaborative back and forth that helps them clarify the relationship between the source material and the historical issue at hand. 


EVALUATING PERFORMANCE

The most meaningful way I reinforce and measure the success of my objectives is by incorporating frequent, varied and visible writing. Rather than reserving writing for exams or a final research paper (both of which I use sparingly), I have found that frequent writing throughout the semester allows for valuable pauses for reflection and meaningful learning outcomes along the way. I find that giving written assignments in different genres and forms (or scaffolding a semester long assignment with different types of written components) engages students in exciting ways and draws on the abilities and creative energies of each student differently. 
In one of my survey courses on the Hebrew Bible, I scaffolded a semester long project with both group and individual writing components that were regularly presented to the class and engaged the students deeply with a single book of the Torah. This semester-long engagement culminated in a creative writing assignment where students were asked to create a newly discovered lost chapter of their book. This assignment was a lot of fun for the students, but it also employed their learning about the book as they tried to capture its themes, content and style. I’ve also had students write book reviews, film critiques, blog posts, Wiki entries, and ethnographic reports. Students find these assignments are effective at fostering analytical and creative thinking.


DEVELOPMENT

These classroom methods and my approach to teaching writing are the evolving product of a great deal of thinking both inside and outside of the classroom. Beyond my diverse classroom experiences with Duke, Elon and UNCG undergradauates and Divinity school students I've sought out groups, classes and workshops to enhance my pedagogy. I’ve been a frequent participant in the Curriculum in College Teaching program at Duke, and have taken a CCT course on Writing Across the Curriculums with Cary Moskovitz. The Wired! initiative at Duke has also been a great place to explore combining technologies (especially 3d modeling) with writing in the classroom. Most formative though has been my own departments “Teaching and Learning”, the completion of which awards a certificate for “Teaching in Religion” recognized by the Graduate School. I served as the coordinator for this program for two years (2013-2015), and used my position to design and implement events focused on effective teaching, including a multi-part series on Writing in the Religion Classroom that took fellow graduate students through the process of constructing effective writing assignments and syllabi, effective and efficient grading techniques, with workshops and with a faculty panel discussion on the role of writing in the religion classroom. These events were some of the most successful in the programs history both in attendance and in reviews from students and faculty alike.

While my own research in visual and material culture is inherently multimodal, I haven’t had the opportunity to experiment with implementing dynamic multimodal and digital humanities assignments in the classroom. I have developed several courses and projects that would feature semester long multimodal writing projects. One course, for example, would center around the construction a digital model of a particular room at the site of Sepphoris, and would reconstruct its historical use through primary evidence collected in the field (see course description). Students would use writing both as a tool for collecting, organizing and thinking through the various types of data via collaborative blogging, and as a way of sharing the results of their research in a meaningfully visible way with a permanent web presence for their digital model online, including a narrated ‘tour’ and final report.

I have many questions about how to stage this project in particularly and how to craft writing assignments with visual, material and digital components in general. I envision incorporating similar writing projects into most of my future classrooms, and I would particularly like to explore how to ensure that writing is being practically and effectively integrated with other project elements (eg. field data analysis and 3d modeling) in ways that develop students writing skills, and how to balance training the students in necessary skills (like archaeology and digital modeling) while maintaining an orientation towards developing writing skills, and how to balance evaluation of writing in multimodal projects.