“Blog” Topics

April 1, 2013

No fooling, it’s the first day for BSU students to register for fall courses.

“Ethnography of Religion” is on the books for the Fall, but too often students don’t hear of it until it’s too late.  So, here, I ask former students to share their experiences in the class. Or even students who have had me in other courses and can comment on their experiences from a different course.

Yes, it’s shameless: I’m asking your assistance in spreading the word that this class is the most awesome, life-changing course in the UNIVERSE…no hyperbole (or sarcasm) from me 🙂

My humble, ahem, requests:

(1) Tell friends at BSU about the course

(2) Post here (or message me on FB or in email) your experiences from the course, so I can put at least shortened versions on this site (with your permission, of course)

TOOT TOOT (my own horn): I’m a finalist for the “Outstanding Teaching Award” at BSU…apparently, I’ve gotten a whole lot better since you took my course–this is different from the “Excellence in Teaching Award.” Turned in all the documents and external reference letters today. [Update: I was the runner-up… maybe next year?!?]

I hope you can take a few minutes to help keep our program healthy!

Comment: Elizabeth Smith

Ethnography of Religion is probably one of the Religious Studies department’s best kept secrets, if not THE best kept secret. Each and every one of us has our religious beliefs, but going into this class will help you open up your mind to those of others through real-world immersion. You can’t learn ethnography just by sitting in the classroom and absorbing information through repetition. Ethnography alone is about going out into the world and observing your surroundings; ethnography of religion is about leaving your religious comfort zone and walking in the shoes of someone from another religion. Think of it as another form of practicum in your higher level courses where hands-on experience is an essential. You won’t know just how much you’ve learned until you’ve applied yourself to the real world, and I think that’s what makes Ethnography of Religion significantly different from other Religious Studies classes.

Being an alumna of Dr. Brackett’s very first class, I had no idea what I was going into. My roommate at the time had him in a previous class, and she was the one who told me about this new course and suggested that I should consider taking it if I wanted to get a good understanding of world religions. (She also warned me about Dr. Brackett’s sarcastic personality, so that didn’t help the situation either.)

And I wasn’t alone. Everyone in that temporary classroom was just as confused as I was on the first day, especially those who never had Dr. Brackett before, so it your typical “the blind leading the blind” scenario. We really had no clue what we were doing except we had to spend almost 16 weeks observing a religion that wasn’t our own and share what we learned. And it helped everyone break down the walls of biasism and open our minds to new ideas, which is really the foundation of education–learning new things.

I was raised in a Protestant church, and I chose to study Catholicism that year because I have some extended family who are still Catholic but I could never understand the difference between the two groups. And this class gave me the opportunity to do just that, but I also had to immerse myself in order to comprehend the meaning of ethnography.I attended several masses to get a feel for their worship, and I talked to my hometown priest to explain to me the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. Now when I look back at what I learned from my immersion, I realize that there isn’t much of a difference except how we view certain sacraments and the Virgin Mary’s role in the story of Christianity.

My reply:

Elizabeth,
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. I really appreciate hearing more about your experiences of the class.

Best, 
JB

Reflexivity and Students’ Writing 2/21/13

I’ve changed this course each time I’ve taught it, in part, based upon my gauging of “what worked” and “what needed to change.” Many of these ideas come directly from students’ responses to the course. Students groaned about the quantity of weekly “journal writing” assignments the first time I taught the course (2008). By the end of the semester, most of those same students said that more—not fewer—of those writing assignments should have been required!

Those weekly assignments gave students opportunities to process what they were experiencing during their field research. Some professors falsely assume that reflexive writing does not help students understand “the other.” However, a well-designed writing assignment integrates both types of thinking (and more).

“Journal writing” assignments included, for instance, guided and open-ended questions that tied together course readings (i.e. theory and method), fieldwork (i.e. working alongside “the other”), and one’s participant observation (i.e. integrating theory, method, and an examination of self/other relationships). In short, these writings align with decades-old trends among ethnographers, who have long ago abandoned the “fly on the wall” or “view from nowhere” approach to studying cultural practices.

These notions of reflexivity need more attention, so I will address them more fully in future posts. For now, I would love to hear from former students about their experiences in this course.

What was the learning experience like for you?

Comment: Sheryl

My 2 cents: I thought the “journal” assignment was time consuming, but the structure was something I found enormously helpful! The authors of some sections in the books would (at times) confuse me by going back and forth between ideas. I was able to look at each idea individually with effort. This assignment was one I loved to hate, and hated to love.

My reply:

Sheryl,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I often have similar feelings of frustration when writing, and usually feel much better after having taken the time to record my thoughts.

Comment: Chelsy

This class single-handedly changed my worldview, particularly in regards to culture and religion. Up until the time I took this class, I was comfortable in my set of religious beliefs and had never challenged myself to be anything more than what I already was. However, when we discussed some basic ideas demonstrated by quantum-physics, my process of self-actualization began. The idea dawned on me that it is illogical to accept a singular and restrictive worldview when there are obviously endless possibilities of lenses through which to filter my experiences. Due to the content, instruction, and open-conversation format of this course, I began to predicate my existence on growing in self-awareness, emotional and spiritual maturity, and international consciousness. I, also, developed an insatiable hunger for knowledge and have since acquired a master’s degree with a desire to continue to a Ph.D. This course, especially with your influence, Dr. Brackett, gave me new eyes and an invaluable sense of self-actualization for which I am eternally grateful. – Chelsy (’08)

My reply: Chelsy,

I’m thrilled to read the first comment by a 2008 grad: that was the very first “ethnography of religion” course at BSU, and I have great memories about the whole class.

Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging words!

I’m so happy to read of your transformative experiences and of your continued educational endeavors. With so many university programs under attack — both from inside and outside of academe — it is a joy to read your comments. I truly appreciate your taking time to share your personal experiences with me (and anyone else reading this blog).

I’ll continue updating this site. A couple of things I’ll be adding soon: (1) Samples of student reflections; and (2) Video clips.

Thanks, again, for your comments.

All the best, 
JB

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