Religious studies dept. hires Newton, broadens curriculum

Kelly Moore February 12, 2014 0

Elizabethtown College’s religious studies department has recently hired a new assistant professor for the upcoming fall semester.

Dr. Richard Newton will teach REL 293, Islam, and offer two new courses for the department: a 300-level seminar on “The Bible and Race in the United States of America,” and a 100-level introduction to African American religion, titled “Signifying Religion: An African American Worldview.”

“Our goal was to broaden our curriculum, and Dr. Gallagher, our consultant, suggested that we could accomplish that and further the College’s plan for ‘Embracing Inclusive Excellence’ by seeking a new faculty member who could teach courses in the area of African American religions,” Religious Studies Department Chair Dr. Christina Bucher said.

Newton, originally from Texas, comes to Etown by way of Southern California. “I did my doctoral work at Claremont Graduate University,” Newton said. “Before that, I studied at Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University.”

Bucher commented that she was looking for someone who would complement some of the department’s existing strengths, such as biblical and gender studies. “He is also interested in leading cross-cultural courses,” Bucher said. An example that Bucher gave of this was the fact that he worked as a research assistant for several summers at an ethnographic field school in the Yucatán.

“My work focuses on scriptures,” Newton said. “I’m fascinated by the creativity and politics that accompany people’s most vital stories. Particularly, I am interested in the lengths people go to live out these narratives – even at the expense of other people. I study sacred and secular scriptures alike in order to better understand this fundamental aspect of human nature. My hope is that if we better understand the way we engage scriptures, then we’ll be less likely to fight on account of them.”

Newton was extremely impressed by Etown’s commitment to cultivating an intimate classroom environment. “The lessons taught at Etown are expected to have an impact beyond the College’s walls,” he said. “This is what higher education is all about, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

“My classes complement Etown’s initiative to prepare globally-minded students,” Newton said. “For my part, that means creating a space to constructively discuss issues like race, religion and politics.” Although Newton cannot guarantee A’s for all of the students that enroll in his class, he’s positive that each student will leave his classroom better equipped to ask the hard questions and make the hard decisions.

In the religious studies department, Newton looks forward to getting involved. He plans on expanding the College’s study of African American religions and wants to continue the momentum by bringing in his colleagues from outside the Etown community to share their work on the intersection of religion and racial issues.

Newton also hopes to enhance the classroom experience by bringing new technology to learning. “I want to leverage the College’s digital resources to enhance the teaching-learning process,” he said.

“Many of my classes are ‘flipped,’ so content delivery happens via streaming video and outside reading. This way I can devote class time to hands-on activities,” he said. According to Netwon, a prime example of this will be having students use their mobile devices to take part in quiz-show games, live tweet movies and message class-related media. “Besides being a fun way to interact, students will gain the skills required to participate and shape the discourse on religion in the 21st century.”

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