Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ask the Experts: How do you Encourage Students to Read?

*The following post is part of a series in which we ask experts for pedagogical tips on specific issues. 

This week we asked our contributors the following question: How do you get students to read? What assignments or incentives do you use to garner enthusiasm? What means of enforcing or grading are involved? How much additional labor does your system incur for you as Instructor?

Pat McCullough: I do a 200-400 word weekly response. I've experimented with the grading. I tried having them grade each other with a detailed rubric, where they would do three peer reviews each week (we use PeerMark through TurnItIn). There were too many problems to make that the official grade. Not all students would complete the peer reviews and therefore not all students would receive the same number of peer scores to average out and there were too many radically different grades to deal with. However, the peer reviews did accomplish two things: (1) it made the students better writers of their own responses and (2) it covered a fair amount of the feedback I would have given. So, I still do the peer reviews and have them suggest a score, but I ultimately decide the official score. I offer more feedback early on and less later. Honestly, the feedback is time consuming and wouldn't work with larger classes. But it prepares students for class discussions and it builds writing and analytical skills over time and not just on one big project at the end. I'm always looking for creative ways to adapt assignments, so I'm looking forward to seeing others' ideas.

Sean McCloud: Example from one of my syllabi: Reading Response Papers: To encourage you to read actively, to read critically, and to prepare for class discussions, you are required to submit 12 reading response papers. These papers must be typed and approximately 250 words (that’s about one page in 12 point font). The papers are due in class on the day the reading is assigned. Each paper must 1) have a title, 2) briefly quote or summarize a passage in one assigned reading for the day, and 3) engage the ideas of the text in some direct and thoughtful way. There are 14 meetings in which you can submit a response.

Each paper is worth 2 points, and turning in all 12 garners you an extra point for a total of 25. You will receive either a checkmark (acceptable) or a minus (unacceptable) for each paper you turn in. A checkmark means that you handed one in on time and followed the guidelines above. A minus means that you did not. The papers are not graded on the persuasiveness of your argument. You are in complete control of how well you do in this part of the course. NO LATE RESPONSE PAPERS... And we always discuss the readings at length in class.

Leslie Dorrough Smith:  Lower level classes: Reading journals, where one entry is logged for each reading. Students ID thesis statement, argument/logic, and any supporting details. I gather these unannounced and then count the articles (quick!) and spot check for the components I just mentioned.

Upper division classes: weekly online quizzes that heavily engage concepts from the readings and then ask some sort of application question. It's open book (=online, off campus), but if they haven't read it, they'll be relatively clueless in answering.

Craig Martin: In my classes I require students to submit a 1-2 page summary of the main points in the reading for every reading assignment. When assigning final grades I drop about a fifth of them, so they have some wiggle room (and that's in the syllabus so they know they'll get a few breaks). I make it clear that it's not a response piece or a reflection piece; I don't want evaluation or moralizing, just a summary that demonstrates they read the whole assignment and have at least a rudimentary understanding of it. (I should note that they can bring evaluations of the readings to the class discussion, but that evaluation is completely beside the point for the purpose of the assignment, which is to demonstrate comprehension.) Grading them is time consuming, since I have a 4/4 load, and typically receive 2 summaries a week from about 50 or 60 students. However, once my reputation for requiring these assignments was established on campus, the laziest population of students self-select out of my courses; that's an indirect benefit to me as an instructor that's accrued over time. However, since I tend to assign difficult texts, I get an inordinate amount of patchwriting, which is an ongoing battle.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Learning Curve: The Confidence Game

*This post is part of a series in which professors reflect on the practical lessons they have learned in the transition from graduate school to employment.

By Richard Newton

I have yet to see a job posting that indicates “no teaching experience necessary.” Stranger things have found their way into the guild’s employment pages, but academic employers are reticent to say they will accept someone with no teaching experience.

This is a rather ingenuous practice as there was a time when every hire once lacked teaching experience. There was a time when that CV line was not. Perhaps as your career advances, you begin to think that your pedagogical prowess came from nowhere. That same“rememory” would then enable you to expect the same of the up and coming teachers who—if hired—would inevitably replace you. Robyn Faith Walsh put it nicely. “If I have observed one thing during the past 18 years, it is that the goalposts for the traditional path to becoming a professor are constantly changing.” It seems worth asking whether employers rarely would hire their former selves.

Meritocracy is neither what it used to be nor something that ever was. With the increased emphasis on professional development for college educators, I’ve wondered whether the ardent search for best practices has bequeathed a bourgeois academic smugness. This assessment culture—designed to help teachers improve—may have the secondary consequence of naming effectiveness almost solely in negative terms, like we are creating a world where the new teacher is never good enough, just not as bad as expected. It’s no wonder then that academic success is typically seen as acquiring a position where how bad of a teacher you are no longer matters.

There’s a confidence game afoot where graduate students are getting played. 

There are master classes on this at the school of hardknocks. If you’re working multiple jobs to get the food, shelter, and clothing you need so you can take that degree, then I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. And you already understand that there’s a lot of fine print that would follow any suggestion I have regarding the so-called transition from graduate school to employment. All I can offer is a teaching that has been reinforced by my time on the tenure-track. So here it goes: You, too, can play a confidence game by acting the professional part now.

Professional Asceticism

Confidence games are an ascetic practice. You have to know that there’s a sacrifice involved. The con artist is committed to making the sacrifice worthwhile. When I was working (and crying) on my dissertation, I stumbled upon some remarks by Ira Glass, host of the successful This American Life radio program.In the video he revisits his early, painful attempts at telling human interest stories. Now a master storyteller, Glass pleads for artists to hold fast and just produce. Get all of the flawed drafts and ineffective lessons out of the way so that you can embrace the good that you trust will come of it.  File this under “keep on keepin’ on.”

Embrace Your Skills

Confidence games are also a matter of skill. There comes a moment in graduate school where you look around and realize that you don’t’ get stickers for being good at school anymore. Similarly, being smart isn’t enough to advance in or even toward the workplace.  Your employment culture expects you to further their scholarly mission, so the best practices are the ones where you get the most return for your investment. Skill is the knowledge to capitalize on that dynamic. I’m inspired here by actress JadaPinkett Smith’s advice for breaking into any industry.

The trick is discerning the most profitable investment. And what I started realizing in my classroom is that my skills look a lot like my interests. I like having fruitful conversations about religion, culture, and teaching. Beyond articulating my own ideas, I want to learn with others interested in those matters. And damn if I don’t have fun doing so online. It was a no brainer then to start a blog in 2006. became a digital representation of those interests, and I’ve tried to nurture it from an online master’s research project on the Parable of the Sower to my web portfolio during my PhD years.

Rather than dismissing it as a one-time student’s (over)eagerness, I’ve reclaimed it as a venue for my students to do what I had wanted to do from the get go— exchanging with professional scholars. I won’t claim that I’m great at web design and critical writing pedagogy. But it’s something I work toward because it works for me.  Find what is working for you and ramp it up. We haven’t seen anything yet because your best is yet to come.

Be Social

Similarly, remember that a confidence game is a social activity.  Academics in our field are tutored in the art of independent scholarship. There’s something to be said about individualism but efficiency is rarely one of them. I’ve found that if you frame your work as something for others to believe in, then possibilities of your contributions increase in turn. Without the support of student services at my institution, I, as a junior faculty member, would never have been able to bring in an award-winning writer-historian,host an innovative filmmaker, or launch a classroom-based research project—all this year. Dream the big dreams with the librarians, center directors, deans, and administrators at your school.

From Failure to Happy

My last gleaning has to do with happiness. Be confident in your sense of frustration because class time is too short to do anything otherwise. I’ll admit there’s a level of double-talk between this and my first point. The difference I’m at peace with is in distinguishing between labor and toil. Labor’s like the pivotal lecture that can’t be made fun. Toil is drudgery with no pay off in sight. I get this cerebrally, but I have to work through a lot of baggage to admit that a lesson has failed. But I’ve not once regretted stopping a class and making a course correction. Confidence can even make that look good.

Put simply: There’s no substitution for doing you.  Your honest worst is better than your faking someone else’s best. And the tenure-track is a place where you’ll need to remind yourself of this and other basics.

Richard Newton is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. He studies scriptures in religion and culture, curates Sowing the Seed: Fruitful Conversations on Religion, Culture, and Teaching; and hosts the podcast, Broadcast Seeding: Future food for Thought.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book of the Week: Religion and Hip Hop

*This post is part of a series which highlights different ways that seminal and newly published texts can be used to explore religion in the classroom.

By Tenzan Eaghll

Teaching doesn't just happen in the classroom. Critical theory is not just the domain of academics. Sometimes a dance performance at the Superbowl can be a lesson in Black history and race relations in America, and sometimes a "soul filled" rap performance at the Grammy's can be political statement.  As Monica Miller points out in Religion and Hip Hop, sometimes cultural critique takes place in Hip-Hop.  

Miller's book was published in 2012, and applies postmodern and critical theory to expose how Hip Hop has been examined by religious and theological scholars. She argues for a new materialist approach to the subject that doesn't essentialize religion as an internal or private space of belief. More importantly, however, she looks at how Hip Hop artists use religious themes and ideas to achieve ulterior means and effects. Miller doesn't begin her analysis with a definition of religion and then proceed to find evidence for it in Hip Hop, but focuses on how religion is presented, both by scholars and artists.

What makes Religion and Hip Hop so topical is that in the last two weeks we have seen powerful performances by leading artists like Beyonce, Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar. These performances make Miller's book exceptionally relevant because they offer us a pedagogical opportunity to show students how religion and politics are imagined and contested in popular culture.

On the surface, Beyoncé's performance at the Superbowl was like many that proceeded it: she wore tight sexy clothing and danced in rhythmic formation. But her use of outfits reminiscent of the Black Panthers and the fact her dancers formed an X―an homage to the American Muslim minister Malcom X―caused both outrage and praise.  Various conservatives pundits lambasted her performance as "racist," while more liberal fans called it a powerful feminist statement about black power. However, as Miller suggests when analyzing Nas's 2008 CD, "Nigger," this sort of politically subversive material is nothing new. Hip Hop artists often use their music to create space for political promise and cultural critique (44). If you missed it, here is a portion of Beyoncé's show:


Undoubtedly, there are limits to the impact these forms of soft politics have, as they often carry the weight of entertainment rather than revolution, and some have even critiqued Beyoncé's performance as capitalism masquerading as radical change, but regardless of your view on the matter these events offer a particularly useful pedagogical opportunity to discuss how religion and politics are put to work by Hip Hop artists.

Kendrick Lamar's presence at the Grammy's this year takes this form of soft politics to a whole new level. His performance has thus far been praised as one of the greatest in the history of the award show, and has evaded much of the criticism slung at Beyoncé. In reference to the mass incarceration of blacks and the history of slavery and oppression in America, Lamar walked out on stage in chains in a prison setting. In a performance that blurred the lines between poetry and rap, Lamar talked about hypocrisy, God, and redemption, and ended his show with a black and white picture of Africa and the words Compton written on it―another allusion to oppression and slavery.  Click here for this must see performance.

Obviously, Miller's book doesn't analyze these recent Hip Hop performances, but I mention them here in light of her book because the work provides a wonderful way to engage students in a theoretical debate about contemporary issues.  So much of religious studies involves a discussion of dead white dudes, but black popular culture is critically engaged in the definition and contestation of religion, and it provides a relevant way to discuss difficult theoretical material. In her discussions on 50 Cent, KRS One, the RZA, Cornel West, Black Churches, and Krumping, Miller explores what the uses of religion seek to "accomplish, authenticate, and authorize in the cultural activity of Hip-Hop" (69).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Learning Curve: Bienvenido a Miami

*This post is part of a new series in which professors reflect on the practical lessons they have learned in the transition from graduate school to employment.

By Robyn Faith Walsh

Once, while working for an emeritus professor at Harvard Divinity School, I unearthed a phone directory from the 1960s. It was very Mad Men. At first, it was a delight to thumb through the photos and see what many of the famous names in the field looked like back when they were masters and doctoral students. Then, after a few pages, I noticed that next to each phone number was a different woman’s name. The only exception to this pattern was the entry for the solecoed (now a well-known scholar at Princeton, I’m happy to say). It clicked: these were the names of the students’ wives. After all, you need to know how to greet the woman taking your classmate’s calls. Like I said, very Mad Men.

I entered college in 1998, and you could argue I never really left. While the golden age of the bespectacled and be-tweeded, gentleman scholar had more or less passed by the time I entered the fray, it wasn’t completely over. Many of my (male) professors, now near retirement, continued to smoke tobacco pipes in their offices, serve alcohol during seminars, and entertain students at their homes where their wives would dutifully serve us. In some pockets of the field, the vestiges of this way of life persist, but it is increasingly rare. Academia is far more diverse and also more corporate than in generations past. The idea of the (mostly male) scholar who is able to “have it all” is also increasingly, even comically, off-the-mark. If I have observed one thing during the past 18 years, it is that the goalposts for the traditional path to becoming a professor are constantly changing. Further, the expectations of what a professor’s life should look like are no longer stable. Forget having a partner at home to answer your phone calls and raise your kids while you research, write, and teach. Some of us would settle for any semblance of office space or health benefits.

Last week, a related—and seemingly casual—conversation between academics on Twitter and Facebook erupted into a discussion eminently hashtag- and meme-worthy. It began with an exchange of Acknowledgements pages from a handful of monographs. The authors cited seemed blithely unaware of the fact that their expressions of gratitude (particularly of men to their housewives) betrayed levels of social privilege no longer representative of the academic community at large. Sharing screen captures and quotes from these publications evoked a number of laughs, but it was humor tinged with a certain irony. As a groundswell of examples and comments grew online, some tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct faculty began writing mock author acknowledgements/biographies intended to be more representative of today’s life in academia.

With these tweets there is little evidence of helpful housewives. Others openly discussed the troubling disparities between tenure-track and adjunct faculty in terms of benefits and other resources. If I still lived in New England, I know I’d be thanking Reynold’s Wrap and duct tape for helping me plug some of the drafts in the moldy Victorian basement (I’m sorry, “garden apartment”) I called home for years. Soon, the phenomenon made news on Inside Higher Ed and opened up a new discussion about whether such accounts were indeed representative: are they too negative? what are reasonable expectations for early career scholars entering the field?

I am currently in the middle of my second year in a tenure-track position at the University of Miami. Before coming to Miami, I taught as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies and Classics for about three years at The College of the Holy Cross and Wheaton College in Norton, MA. I accepted my first adjunct position before I had even submitted my prospectus. At the time, I had observed that those who had taught their own courses (“controlled their own classroom”) were often the ones getting tenure-track jobs. My doctoral institution didn’t offer that option for Religious Studies students; it only offered assistantships. I enrolled in a teaching certificate program, and began developing my own syllabi. I was forced to forfeit my graduate stipend (if I wasn’t a teaching assistant for them, the institution wasn’t willing to support me), and I began cobbling together instructor work. At one point I was teaching a 5-3 and commuting about four hours a day, five days a week in order to make ends meet. It took me a bit longer to finish my Ph.D. than my cohort, but I think the gamble paid off. By the time I decided to test the market, I had developed a strong track record in pedagogy and demonstrated that I knew how to get research done while teaching full-time. I was hired ABD roughly a month after my initial interviews at SBL/AAR.

The mini biography I offer above informs my first piece of advice about the field/market: trust your own critical thinking. No one told me to give up my stipend and start teaching. In fact, I was often advised to do the opposite in order to “finish in five years.” But, I could see the market had changed and that the traditional advice seemed outmoded. I’ll admit that it isn’t feasible for everyone to do what I did, especially those with families or other concerns. I had to live without benefits and below the poverty level for quite some time. I’m still trying to pay down my credit card debt. I had to ask my family for help financially. One of my dissertation advisors even let me live in his house while he was out of the country so I could save money and shorten my commute. Additionally, at the time, I was only responsible for feeding myself and my little dog (although, to be fair, she could have eaten her weight in chicken wings daily if I let her). But, I understood that I shouldn’t blindly accept the conventional process and that I needed to be bold enough to chart my own path. Whether it is when you start teaching/pedagogical training or even who you select to be on your dissertation committee (to whatever extent you can control that process), don’t be afraid to assert yourself if you judge it will better your circumstances in the long term.

Related to this, just say no. As you move along in your career, you will be asked to participate in a variety of professional activities and to contribute to a number of projects. At first, this is exhilarating. But, what helps you at the start of your career may not help you down the road. Certainly, in the beginning, you need to build your CV. If you have the time, feel free to accept offers to blog, write book reviews, compile bibliography, and contribute to encyclopedias and edited volumes. I still do (obviously!). But, these kinds of projects may not necessarily help in obtaining a permanent position or with tenure. When it comes to publishing, peer-reviewed work and your own monographs are the most prized.

If you have a tenure-track position, make sure you understand precisely what will get you tenure. Ask recently tenured faculty what it took for them to advance. Keep in mind that scholars who obtained tenure long ago will have outdated perspectives (you can no longer wait five years to publish your dissertation, for example). If your institution offers a workshop for faculty to review and discuss the expectations for tenure, attend. You may be surprised to find that the administration at your college or university holds the bar quite high, that they explicitly exclude certain kinds of publications from consideration, or that they have very specific rules for potential letter writers.

When it comes to pursuing tenure or simply functioning within a department, there is often a difference between the “rules” and reality. Do not underestimate the value of being a good citizen. If you’re an adjunct who is not obligated to participate in service, attending or helping out with departmental activities is a good way to solidify professional connections and increase your profile within the institution. If you are at a research university and your enrollment numbers and teaching evaluations shouldn’t count against you in your tenure review, that doesn’t mean you should stop promoting your courses or that you can completely disregard your students. If your teaching evaluations are abysmal, it would be wise to work on your approaches in the classroom. Not only is it always a good idea to pursue avenues for professional development, you also never know when the culture and standards of an institution might shift (e.g., teaching became much more of a factor for tenure at the University of Miami under recently retired President Donna Shalala’s regime than it had been previously). Use social awareness to help you decide which tasks and responsibilities you should investigate, accept, or reject.

While this may be somewhat controversial, I also believe that you have to recognize that there is a degree to which being a professional in this field involves a certain amount of strategic performance. Whether we are in front of a classroom, speaking to the public, or sitting in a committee meeting, there are particular ways that we have all been socialized to embody “the Academic.”I find that it’s important to understand, both, what you represent to those around you and what you project (and I do see these as different things). And I think it’s important to figure out what kind of relationship you want to have with this aspect of the job.

For example, on the subject of gender, I know my students are going to scrutinize what I wear. Gender bias is very real in our culture, and if you are a public figure in any measure, such bias is as regrettable as it is inevitable. As such, I work with it to whatever extent I can.To offer a “very Miami” case study, shortly after arriving here, I noticed that, like it or not,women tended to wear high heels as a means of expressing authority. Not being particularly interested in or adept at wearing them, I took to wearing flats to class but also carrying a pair of high heels that daily peek out of my satchel for whenever they seem necessary. My students think this is a hilarious commentary on Miami culture, and it is often an example I can reference in the classroom when we talk about gender expectations.  I agree that much of this kind of culture both in and outside of the academy needs to change. But I also think that, to some extent, you can find ways to make it a tool and, ultimately, a benefit.

I also see mentorship as an integral part of the role we play. Personally, I have found that making myself available to my students has been more rewarding than not. There is almost never enough time during class to talk in depth about all of the issues the study of religion can raise. I have also had students come to me because something we addressed in class has come up with friends or family and they want advice on how to talk to others about what they are learning. These moments can be invaluable for helping students feel a sense of ownership over their developing knowledge of our subject matters.

And beyond the classroom, the majority of our “audience” is comprised of young people entering a sometimes-difficult phase of their lives: some are away from home for the first time; maturity can be an issue; cognitively they are still prone to take risks. A wide variety of studies have demonstrated that signs of mental illness often emerge for the first time in young adults. Thankfully, our campuses usually have excellent resources and professionals to help deal with such issues. Yet, it is also the case that many students will turn to their instructors or professors first. We are hardly trained for this aspect of the job. If fielding the personal problems of your students is something with which you are not comfortable, by all means, set firm boundaries. For me, being in conversation with campus resources and assisting students in finding the proper resources to succeed personally and academically has been a real privilege.

Do they come to me because I’m a woman? Maybe. And, I have certainly learned the hard way to limit my office hours and to ignore emails after a certain hour. But, the same advice I gave at the onset of this piece about trusting your own critical thinking applies here as well. You may not understand entirely why your students come to you, but if they do, it is because you embody something that seems authoritative and maybe even “safe” to them. We have to anticipate this aspect of the job, educate ourselves about the resources at our institutions, and decide what we are able to offer.

Moreover, from my own experience, you can’t underestimate the influence a strong mentor can have on your personal and professional choices. I took every class my undergraduate Classics advisor, Nancy Evans, offered. At some point in the early going, she had me over to her house for tea. I already looked up to her, and she had such a lovely home with so many books (oh so many books!). I knew there were no guarantees, but it helped me decide to go to graduate school. Evans and others modeled for me how to be persistent and weather the expectations of this career. Allowing for that kind of relationship with your students can be an incredibly powerful pedagogical tool, and it is also one of the things that has kept me motivated in the moments when teaching seems like something of a hindrance to neglected research and writing.

Finally, realize that in many ways you are an island. When you are in graduate school, you have a surplus of mentors, peers, and friends willing to discuss your research. You have your cohort of fellow students. You have a (hopefully) captive audience among your professors, directors, readers, and advisers. But, when you begin teaching, it is more the norm that you are the only person representing your area of specialization. Those easy conversation partners are gone, and the training wheels are off. I admit that I still haven’t figured out the best way to handle this aspect of being an early career scholar. So far, I have tried to find as many conversation partners as I can among my immediate colleagues and in allied departments or local universities. I attend as many public lectures and readings as I can. With the help of a colleague in Classics, we applied for (and got) funding for an open research group. And, I keep in close contact with my graduate school friends and colleagues from my adjuncting and grad school days. When I face a challenge with my teaching, I reach out to senior colleagues within my department and at other institutions (thank you Russell McCutcheon). Facebook has also been my friend, particularly when I have a last minute question or if I need advice before class. While this is all still new to me, it seems to be a fairly effective strategy for building community and, hopefully, my career.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book of the Week: Ways of Seeing, by John Berger

*This post is part of a new series which highlights the pedagogical value of old and new books. It seeks to highlight different ways that seminal and newly published texts can be used to explore religion in the classroom.

By Tenzan Eaghll

In 1972 BBC aired a four-part television series of 30-minute films created by John Berger, Ways of Seeing, which was later adapted into a book of the same name in 1973. The structure of the book is simple, and the central message even a little passé for contemporary theoretical audiences, but it remains a very useful pedagogical tool for introducing students to the basics of ideological criticism.

The chief aim of the book is to expose the hidden ideology of visual images.  Berger takes the reader on a journey through the traditional interpretation of Western cultural aesthetics and details how modern technology and advertizing disturb this representational view of art and culture. Berger points out how representation has all too often been portrayed theologically, making the viewer the absolute purveyor of objective reality, and then seeks to show how the technology of the camera deconstructs this model of representation. By the end of the book, Berger has introduced the reader to the basics of ideological criticism by showing how all images facilitate not a view of objective reality, but a host of ideas, affects, and assumptions of the modern world.

I find this book a useful tool in a 200 or 300 level class on the study of religion because it provides a simple way to introduce critical theory to students. Theoretically, the book is based upon Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, but it is far more accessible than any text ever written by the obscure author of the Arcades Project. This is in part because the book bypasses Benjamin's complicated prose and logic for a simple analysis of modern advertising, but also because the four-part television series provides an easy way for students to digest Benjamin's rich ideas.  

Though the series focuses on art, aesthetics, and advertising, I find it a useful tool for teaching how religion is imagined in popular discourse by theologians, specialists in myth, and critical theorists. Just like the traditional interpretation of Western cultural aesthetics assumed that perspective was a lens to objectively view the world, so theological and mythological depictions of religion present the subject as an object out in the world fit for detailed analysis. Hence, just like Berger invites his reader to see how modern technology upsets the assumed relation between spectator and reality, I invite the students to consider how any discourse on religion (or any "religious image") is constructed by a plurality of technical effects.

Here is the introductory clip from Berger's four-part BBC special that I like to show students after they have read the initial chapter from the book:


Note how everything Berger says about paintings directly applies to religion. Just as the traditional approach to aesthetic images "centers everything on the eye of the beholder," so the traditional approach of religion presents it as an object to be viewed by a spectator. Similarly, just as critical theory allows us to expose the ideological assumptions that underlie artistic images, a critical analysis of religion allows us to expose the technical affects that are used to compose an absolute perspective on culture.

Since chapter two, three, and four of Berger's Ways of Seeing focus on how women are portrayed in oil paintings and advertisements, this book has been very influential in feminist readings of popular culture. However, I think it is equally useful for the religious studies classroom because it provides a nice introduction to the basics of any study of visual culture. Of course, the book and the BBC series is not perfect, and must be followed with more contemporary readings of ideological criticism to avoid a simplistic "Marxist" view of critical theory, but it works well as an introductory tool in the classroom.