Welcome to Religion 1024

Hello all!  Welcome to our course!  Please peruse the “Getting Started with Blogging” page to get started!  Feel free to leave a comment with any questions!

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Getting Ready To Blog

I started this blog because it seemed like every class in my life last semester had some sort of requirement about it.  Now, with no assignments, I found my voice was gone.  Do I really have nothing to say?

Um, have you met me?

A month from now, insha’Allah, I will be in Beirut on a Lebanon Summer Fellowship  (cultural immersion/travel) sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations.  My goal is to blog the entirety of the trip, from the pre-planning through my year following my return.  Part of the fellowship is that we share the knowledge we gain over our 10 days in Lebanon with our communities.  Well, with a blog, my community is anyone.

A few comments.  VT’s WordPress site does not work well on the iPad.  Creating links is a nightmare.  Edits are equally problematic.  I am using a Logitech keyboard I just got off Amazon to update this, and so far I really like it.

It is my goal to be constantly blogging and updating Twitter while I’m there.  Follow my hashtags on Twitter (#lebanon2012, #LSF2012) to keep up with me in real-ish time.

To be 100% honest, though, I may have to migrate to official WordPress if this is going to work.  This lack of editing could be a problem.


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Being Faculty

So the first week of the semester in PFP, we had to quickly write down what we thought it meant to be a faculty member.  Looking back at it, I must have really been in a bad mood:

A faculty member at a college or university is a person who wears many hats.  Through the course of your day, you are a teacher, an advisor, a committee member, a researcher… just to name a few.  A faculty member is someone who better have a pretty strong ability to balance multiple projects at once.  It is not a 9-5 job—some days you work from sun-up to sundown.  Summers aren’t “Free Time” like so many non-academics believe.  Every vacation ends up involving your research at some point.  Being a faculty member means not seeing your family from Thanksgiving to Christmas, even if you’re actually home every night.  It’s constant, lifelong learning.  It’s never quite growing up—you’re always around young people, and your job still involves going to school every day (and being excited about snow days, in spite of what you may tell your students).  It’s fighting with the administration for your students, knowing that gaining opportunities, funding, and time for your own students may end up being detrimental to other departments (and feeling incredibly guilty about that—usually).  It is fighting with sports for the “real” reason students should be at college.  Spring isn’t March Madness—it’s job talks and committee meetings.

After that, I ran out of time to type.

First off, wow, this is pretentious and horrible.  I swear I haven’t doctored it in any way (clearly–look how bad it is!).

But there are some points in there I still believe are true, even after this semester.  As faculty, we really are people who have to “switch gears” constantly, balancing home life and work life; teaching and researching; faculty committee member and student mentor.  Through all of these switches, we have to stay up-to-date on our fields.  We can only emulate the importance of lifelong learning to our students if we ourselves remain active learners.

I think I was probably a little on the administration in my initial write-up.  Many things happen at the higher admin levels that as individual faculty, staff, and students have no concept of.  We have talked a lot this semester about ethics and standards, and faculty members should always stand up for what they think is right.  As Dean DePauw reminded us all spring, it is important to know where your ethical lines are before you enter a situation with a student, fellow faculty member, and even the administration.

My “being faculty” statement is not as comprehensive as I would like, but I think that’s OK.  If I knew everything there was to know about “being faculty” at 26, having not yet officially been a member of any faculty… well, that would be pretty ridiculous.

PS:  I still get excited about snow days…


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The Price of Academic Writing

In NMFSS yesterday, Gail made this excellent point regarding scholarly articles:  “We pay you a little bit to write your article and then we pay a *lot* to the publisher to get it back!”

She’s absolutely right.  Our colleges and universities (assuming you’re in academia of course) pay us our wages.  And those wages cover our teaching, research, and service.  So yeah, she’s right, at the end of the day, a little bit of those wages go toward writing that article.  We are not paid by the journal for these submissions, nor do I necessarily think we should be.

This article is then published in an expensive journal, which the library has to buy either in paper copy, or in digital copy, or in both!  Without a library account you cannot access this material.  Anyone can walk into the library and use it, to be fair, but not everyone has digital access.

I know for a fact that the cost of these journals is problematic for many university libraries, especially in light of state-level budget cuts (for state schools).  At a former institution, we were sent a list of journals to be cut one year, and unless we made an incredibly strong case for a particular journal, they were cut at the end of the year.

Why are we limiting information to only those who can afford it?  How much farther and faster would knowledge advance if we didn’t exclude people simply because they cannot afford 35 bucks to read an article?

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I like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out when I have offended people and am fairly willing to apologize immediately.  My mouth often goes faster than my brain, so this happens enough that I feel like I can speak to how good I am at fixing it.

So when I encounter a situation where someone is being antagonistic to me, and I honestly cannot figure out why, I tend to think that there’s probably nothing I can do to change that situation (wow, I’m just abusing adverbs everywhere).

Thank G-d I have a pretty thick skin.

More often than I would like, I sit in academic, professional situations and watch posturing that I just can’t understand.  Often these situations arise on power-relationship dynamics (men/women; profs/grad students; older/younger).  Quite probably, insecurities I cannot even begin to understand are fueling them.

When “I’m smarter/better/older/whiter/male/younger/taller/female/educated-er than *you*” get in the ways of meaningful dialogue, learning, and just being humane to each other, it infuriates me.  Sometimes I feel empowered to respond to these situations; other times, I sit back and let the jerk (let’s use our 5-year-old words) be a jerk.  Jerkiness will out, G-dwilling.

At the end of the day, I really only have control over my own actions, appearance, and knowledge in any professional (or personal, or random, or ANY) situation.  And if I come off as a jerk, that’s my own fault.

Don’t be a jerk.

Luckily, I have some brilliant academic role models I pull from.  People who are willing to not be in the experts in the room at all times–who encourage the rest of us to step in where their knowledge may be lacking.  I love them for pulling me through the days where the wangst (wank-angst) gets to be too much.


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Why aren’t we reading Lyotard?

For my Religion and Modernity in the West course this week, we read Jean-François Lyotard’s “A Report on Knowledge.”

Let be honest and say I haven’t finished it.  I might be missing something huge.

I am taking both GEDI and NMFSS the semester, and as I read through the intro and beginning of the short work (yes, I have no excuse for not having finished it), I was drawn to Lyotard’s discussion of the importance of understanding how technology is changing the way we learn.  In this new technological age, language becomes incredibly important (this is all on page 16 of the edition I have).  As part of this shift towards a more communicative society, he sees narrative and story as becoming more and more important (page 19).

Narrative becoming more important.  People telling their stories.  You mean… like blogging?

Lyotard wrote this work in 1979, and honestly, it is asking the same pedagogy and new media questions we are still asking.  I forgot to look at the title page when I started (my bad…), and from his language and discussion, I pegged him in the late 80s/early 90s.

Lyotard isn’t in our NMFSS textbook, and frankly, I’m shocked.  Because this guy is seriously awesome.

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Networkin’ Knowledge

Today’s post is brought to you by 21st century Brain, sponsored in part by growing up in the 90s.  Blog posting while paying attention in class.  Go me.

One of my classmates, blogo-named Nature, posted this entry a few days ago about Knowledge Networks.  After explaining his connection to this area and feeling like he needed a push into the next step of knowing about Knowledge networks, he ended his post with this:

What should I be reading?  Who should I talk to?

I get that he meant this specifically with regards to Knowledge Networks, but this is really how feel nearly every day.  I wonder if this is just the plight of the grad students, to feel like we never know when we’re reading enough, or if we’re reading the right thing.  Talking to others is an entirely different set of terrors, because that actually involves having to interact in an weird master/student relationship.  No one wants to look ignorant, especially in front of the person with the “answers.”

I’m aware that this post does not really do what Gardner asked for (like how I pinged an entry that has nothing to do with this post, G? Pingbacks and Knowledge Networking FTW!), but this quote of Nature’s stuck out to me for better or for worse.

ETA (04/04/2012 05:02):  Well everything is connected, isn’t it.  That post of Gardner’s I connected to talks about how we can have time to be so plugged into the Series of Tubes.  That came up in class today.  Oops.

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D’You Ever Wonder Why We’re Here?

Wow, pretentious title is pretentious.  But it’s an question that actually came up in my New Media Faculty-Staff Seminar.

The title comes from an online web series, Red vs. Blue.  I love Red vs. Blue.  It was one of the first, and is still one of the all-time best best, online machinema creations.  The first lines of the pilot episode go like this:

Simmons: D’You ever wonder why we’re here?
Grif: It’s one of life’s great mysteries, isn’t it? Why are we here? I mean, are we the product of some… cosmic coincidence? Or is there really a God, watching everything, you know, with a plan for us and stuff. I don’t know man, but it keeps me up at night.
Simmons: What? I mean why are we out here, in this canyon?
Grif: Oh. Uhhhhh. Yeah.

There are really two different ways to approach the question “Why are we here?”  For instance, someone might ask me:  Why are you studying at Virginia Tech?

  1. Well, they accepted me and gave me a stipend/tuition remission, so I’m here.
  2. Because at the end of the day,  I wish to become a professor at a small, liberal arts college.  The interdisciplinary program ASPECT will allow me to pursue my dual interests, that of religion and politics, in a way that will make me a well-rounded scholar at a small college.
Obviously, the first answer is very knee-jerk: Why am I in this place?  The second is more long-term:  Why am I on this path, and what is my goal?  The first starts the conversation.  The second gets us someplace interesting.

The question we kind of ended NMFSS with on Wednesday basically was a “Why are we here?” question for Gardner.  For me, it implied a lack of self-awareness of what we are doing.  I don’t expect Gardner to ever come in and tell us why we’re meeting each week, what the justification for each reading is, etc.  I will never be the “is this going to be on the [life] test (obviously we don’t have real tests)” kid in NMFSS.  The answer’s in the reading, the format, and in our conversations themselves.

I don’t wonder why we’re here (in NMFSS, that is.  Earth gives me a big headache).  I know (or at least, I think I know) why I’m in NMFSS.  It seems as a collective class, we all have an understanding, like Engelbart, that we are on the cusp of something… awesome.  There’s a reason we’re now calling most of the internet Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 is when the integration of material exploded.  Before, everyone had their own little space, their bulletin board, their journal, their family tree, their whatever online, and archiving websites (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) brought that information together in ways that search engines never could.  Web 2.0 didn’t do this on its own.  People did it.  People all over the world used their collective genius and energy to (mostly unpaid, at first) put together Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 is big.  Beyond big.  Huge. Ginormous.  OMGWHAAAAT-big?  Mother-of-all-Demos-level awesome that even Engelbart might be slightly impressed by.

Does that mean we do nothing in NMFSS, if we’re not actively solving a problem?  No.  I am constantly amazed by our readings, conversations, and group exploration.  So, what’s the “reason” or “point” of NMFSS?  I think the “question” to be answered is that we don’t need a problem to solve during the course of the semester.  That is not our telos.  By reading what we’re reading and discussing the way we’re discussing, we  learn to approach everything we encounter creatively.  Then, we need to share that information as widely as possible with the 21st century tools we have at our disposal, because otherwise, what’s the point of learning?   And we need to do all of this with an overarching love of learning, thinking, and doing guiding our thought processes.

I watched my parents go without to provide my brother and I with the best education they could, but I know so many others whose parents couldn’t find the means.   That’s probably why I am a big fan of disseminating knowledge openly.  I absolutely hate that academic journals are so expensive, or that lecture hall space caps out just because the fire marshall will come if we let in more people, or that students can’t go on trips (regardless of their abilities) because they can’t afford to.

Does it cheapen what we do as academics if we share it with everyone?  Absolutely not.  If someone is teaching for the money or the prestige, they probably should stop, because only the rarest professor gets either.  If one teaches because they have a love of learning and helping others to learn, then sharing knowledge with anyone and everyone should come as naturally as breathing.  If one is teaching at a land-grant institution, we get this.  This is that “service” part they bandy about so much.

New media allows us to do all of this in ways the writers of our texts hoped for.

That’s why we’re here.


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Expectations for Graduate Education

Did you know there was entire page devoted to “Expectations for Graduate Education” at VT?  Until PFP last night, I had no idea.

At a Glance,” the expectations are on four main parties:  Grad Students, Faculty, Program/Department, and the Graduate School.  Many of these responsibilities involve clear explanation of intentions and requirements, ethical behavior, the providing of information and support, and above all a hands-on approach to education.  The onus isn’t put completely on the student to just “figure it out”; all members are accountable in this system.

The Much Longer Document (22 pages) defines a graduate student, which is interesting to me, because I don’t know that I would have ever thought to define who we are:

Graduate students are individuals seeking advanced degrees or certificates, either full- or part-time, at any of the campuses or programs of Virginia Tech. They are in the process of advancing from receiving knowledge to creating, enhancing, and taking ownership of new knowledge. Graduate students have various backgrounds, life experiences, and goals. Graduate students have diverse needs related to their multiple roles at Virginia Tech, such as student, researcher, educator, mentor, emerging and advancing professional, engaged scholar, and responsible citizen. (Page 4)

I (mostly) like it.  The one thing I find missing is that we aren’t just Tech-oriented.  We, like all people, have roles outside of the university.  To be sure, it does say that we have “various backgrounds, life experiences, and goals,” but given how often the work-life balance is decimated in graduate school, a nod to the need for such a balance would be a welcome addition in my mind.

Many portions of the longer document talk about the relationship between students and their faculty/department/Grad School with regard to mentoring.  As that is an upcoming topic in PFP, I look forward to exploring this more

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Space and Place

OK, so I said I would write a MAL entry when I got back, and I will, but I haven’t had time yet.

I’m in Urban Political Geography, and for class today, we had to write a 2-minute response to this problem:  how do we/you claim space (other than buying it)?  This was my response:

Space and place have always been an interesting problem for me.  People often ask me where I am from, a question that on some level asks what area I claim as my own.  Being the daughter of a Navy personnelman, I’ve never had a good answer to this question.  People claim space and place by where they were born, or where they grew up the longest, or where their families are originally from.  None of these answers work for me:  I was born in Baltimore, two places can lay claim to the “longest lived,” and I have family from both costs of the United States.  Many Americans claim their countries of origin prior to immigration (I myself know I am primarily Irish, Swedish, and German), but I have no connection to those countries other than a date of immigration.

Potomac Street, Ridgeley, WVMy claims to place do not come from ownership, as I have never owned a house or a piece of land.  They come from memories and the emotions attached to them.  And for me, they are very geography based.  My strongest claim to home is the Appalachian mountains.  My grandmother was born in Keyser, WV, and I grew up in Western Maryland and the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia from 1995-2001.  The culture there is the one I most identify with, both from living there and from being raised by a father who spent his summers climbing around those mountains when he would visit his own grandparents.  Both of my parents still live in this area, and holidays and breaks are spent there as “home.”

Moving to Blacksburg was an emotional experience for me, because in so many ways, it reminds me of middle and high school memories.  While unique in its own right, Blacksburg shares much of the characteristics and culture in the space I grew up.  I notice familiar trees and flowers.  The mountains on the horizon are the same rolling shape.  The people come from similar social, religious, and economic backgrounds.  The memories here of course do not match the ones from my childhood.  I cannot point to the place I skinned my knee in seventh grade or the trees I took my sophomore prom pictures in front of.  Yet the cultural memory runs deeper.  Though the place is different, this new space is home.

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