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By the time you read this, I will have met the students in “Religious Dimensions in Human Experience: Between Animals and Gods.” In this completely redesigned dual-level (grad/undergrad) course, we will explore how people can know a single animal—the snake—as an
earthly creature and a supernatural entity. My students and I will work toward this objective by learning about snakes in a few different contexts. We will establish a baseline (and correct common misunderstandings) in conversation with biologists at Georgia State and ZooAtlanta before turning to snakes in Indian and Mesoamerican folkbiology and Hindu and Aztec religions.

I say we—my students and I—because I’ll be in it with them. I’m no expert on snakes, science, or Hinduism. I am at the beginning of a new research project that involves all three—plus Mesoamerican materials—and I’ll be learning alongside my students. (Well, hopefully slightly ahead of them.) I read recently that it’s good to model ignorance for students; my ignorance this semester is authentic. As are my questions.

Starting with my students at the beginning of understanding the materials we will study offers me an opportunity to model learning in my teaching. I don’t expect they’ll all adopt my methods, but I hope the approaches we use are diverse and interdisciplinary enough that most students will find useful tools, techniques, or theories along the way.

So that I’m not the only model, I’m inviting some experts in to our conversations. Biologists will come to class so that I don’t bungle phylogenetics. We’ll visit ZooAtlanta to talk to herpetologists and “meet” the snakes, and we’ll spend an afternoon at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum where students will see snake imagery in Hindu and Native American art. Plans are in the works to Skype with Indologists and ethicists writing about animals and religion, and students may interview some of these scholars for their podcasts. 

SnakeDid I mention that students will be creating podcasts? I am assigning podcasts as “reading” and writing. I am a longtime fan of shows like RadioLab, Death, Sex and Money and This American Life, and assigning multimedia “writing” makes sense to me because it invites students to be creative researchers and writers. My hypothesis is that writing for listeners—and an audience of their peers (not just the instructor)—will motivate students to engage more deeply in research and to produce more compelling “writing.”

(Future blog posts from me will describe the podcasting assignments and link to some examples.)

What is this blog?

I am here to open a conversation about teaching new courses. I’ll be describing some of the challenges and surprises that happen over 14 weeks of reading new material, trying new assignments, and figuring out what works (and doesn’t). I’m inviting you in for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens as I plan and teach a new course. Pull up a screen and have your earbuds at the ready. Our introductory podcast episode is up, and you’re invited to listen in. Here goes!


This is the 2nd post in this series by Molly Bassett this semester (Fall 2015).

Molly Bassett

About Molly Bassett

Dr. Molly Bassett is an Associate Professor and Chair in Religious Studies at Georgia State University. Her research focuses on concepts of deity and the creation of god-bodies in Aztec and modern Nahua religions. She published The Fate of Earthly Things in 2015. Molly has been involved with the Wabash Center since 2011, when she joined a pre-tenure workshop. Her research in the 2014-2015 Study of Teaching and Learning Colloquy led to a publication on crafting multiple-choice exams that test for critical thinking, and in 2016 she joined the editorial board of Teaching Theology and Religion. Molly has been on the steering committee for the Teaching Religion unit of the AAR since 2012, and she began co-chairing the unit in 2015. Most recently, she received a small project grant from Wabash to explore the applied liberal arts in the study of religions. She lives in Atlanta with her spouse, Mike, two children, Jennings and Dory, and two dogs, Chance and Owen. When they’re not walking the dogs, you can find them playing cars on the kitchen floor, reading the Belly Button Book, or riding bikes.

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