Today after my students in Sociology of Religion took their final exam, I headed to Starbucks to read their evaluations. Just in case I needed a stiff one to get me through their comments, I ordered a dark roast. And then the fun started.
Now in my 5th year teaching this class, many of the earlier critiques were gone and all that was left were compliments. I smiled and laughed a few times as I turned over page after page of 40 very nice evaluations–the adjectives used to describe me included “amazing”, “very energetic” and “knowledgeable.”
What was different this time around? I think I found the right balance of texts and assignments. Unlike other sociology classes I teach at UNC, students who come to this class are not (for the most part) sociology majors. Many are religious studies majors, some are in biology, and many in English. All come because they are curious about religion, but not necessarily sociology of religion.
So I start them off with difficult readings from Daniel Pals’ Eight Theories of Religion on Weber and Marx, along with Karen Fields’ introduction to Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. I mix more contemporary readings for those weeks to show why those theories are still relevant. Then I have them go out and observe a religious service and apply one of those theories to what they observed.
Undergraduates are very skilled observers of the social world, and I always look forward to reading their observations about [Read more...]