Among Sam’s first interview subjects are History Department colleagues Amy Poppinga and Chris Gehrz, who share their stories of becoming historians and teachers.
Why record long-form interviews with fellow Bethel professors about their intellectual autobiographies? Sam roots his interest in such stories in his early days teaching Christianity and Western Culture with our now-retired colleague Kevin Cragg:
When I attended my first CWC summer planning meeting in June of 2001, I was initiated into yet another aspect of Kevin’s focus and interest in stories. As a new faculty member, I was asked to tell my intellectual autobiography to the other nine members of my teaching team. Kevin wanted me to tell everyone else about who I was and how the sources and trajectories of my life led me to teaching this course at this school at this moment. Who was I? What was I interested in and why? What questions shaped or drove my life? When I was finished telling my story, he asked everyone else on the team to tell their intellectual autobiographies too. His idea was simple: “How can we teach as a team if we don’t know each other? And how can we know each other if we don’t know each other’s stories?”…
That is the purpose of this podcast. I want to sit down and talk with the people I know. To collect their stories and their wisdom. I want to be open to what I can learn about teaching, and God, and life.
(These podcasts might have particular interest for students and alumni considering graduate school, as the interviews often explore that experience.)
Join our own Prof. Amy Poppinga in the Bethel University Library next Thursday (April 3) at 10:20am as she and faculty colleagues Andy Bramsen (Political Science) and Carrie Peffley (Philosophy) present “Teaching without Preaching: Engaging Islam in the Bethel Classroom.” Amy will draw on her experiences teaching classes like HIS212U Introduction to the Muslim World and HIS328G Muslim Women in History. (Andy teaches about religion and politics in courses like POS329 African Politics, which is cross-listed in History; Carrie teaches PHI230U Medieval Islamic Philosophy.)
#3 in our series of four new course previews: Prof. Amy Poppinga will spend this J-term teaching one of her primary fields of expertise…
HIS328G Muslim Women in History
What are some of the big themes of this course?
One of the central themes of the course is to determine how religious practice changes and evolves according to space in time and cultural context. How do Muslim women regard the role of faith and practice in their lives differently than Muslim men? When have they been in control of shaping their own destinies and when have others shaped it for them?
Can you introduce us to some of the Muslim women students will meet in HIS328G?
We will read about some key figures in early Islamic history like Khadija, Aisha, and Fatima. We will study Shajarat al-Durr, co-founder of the Mamluk dynasty, and contemporary figures like Benazhir Bhutto, Fatima Mernissi, Queen Noor of Jordan, etc…. We will read works by female academics like Leila Ahmed, Ingrid Mattson, Kecia Ali, Jamillah Karim, and others. However, I want to emphasize that a central part of the course is interacting with Muslim women from our own Minnesota community. So you will ACTUALLY meet some of my Muslim friends like Mariam and Mona Hannon, Mallerie Shirley, and others.
What do you think students will enjoy most about it? What will they find most challenging?
One of the things I love about women’s history is that it requires the teacher and the students to think outside the box in order to get to heart of the Muslim woman’s story. We have to rely on certain methods, like oral history, song, poetry, photos, and artifacts in order to piece together the roles women have played in shaping their societies because they often do not have a voice in written history. We will also be inviting Muslim women to have tea with us in our classroom, and we will share our own stories with one another. This is an important form of “cementing” history that women of all cultures have participated in throughout time.
I think the challenge comes in confronting our own stereotypes and prejudice. We have to be willing to be honest about how the Christian community, at times, feeds the negativity that exists regarding Muslims and Islam. Interacting with stories and making personal connections breaks down that negativity. To be honest, sometimes we’re not quite ready to do it; it requires bravery and faith.
If students take away only one thing from the course, what would you like it to be?
One of the central themes of the course is the celebration of individual experience. We will dispel the myth that there is one singular type of Muslim woman, just as there is no singular type of Christian woman.
Over the weekend Prof. Amy Poppinga was in Chattanooga, TN for the 2013 Adventist Forum Conference, A Third Way: Beyond the conservative/liberal divide to a Christian identity refreshed by interfaith dialogue. In her presentation, “”How Cultural Identity Shapes Faith and Complicates Interfaith Relations,” Amy considered the role of vulnerability in interfaith relationships and the challenge for Christians to rely less on our confidence of what we think we know and more on faith.
That was the first of several presentations that Bethel History professors will be making in 2013-2014:
• Prof. Chris Gehrz will be a fish out of water at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, held in mid-November in Baltimore. Chris will speak on “The Global Reflex: An International Historian Appraises David Swartz’s Moral Minority,” as one of three scholars invited to respond to Swartz’s acclaimed history of politically progressive evangelicalism. (Learn more at Chris’ blog.)
• And next May, Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra will present at the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, held for 2014 in Toronto. On the heels of teaching her new spring course, History of Sexuality in America, AnneMarie will take part in a panel on “Sexualities in the City,” contributing a paper on “Enterprising Men in Los Angeles’s Red-Light District, 1870-1909.”
Then Prof. Diana Magnuson and Prof. Ruben Rivera will be attending conferences and workshops this fall: Diana later this month at the Minnesota Population Center‘s workshop, “IPUMS-USA, US Census and American Community Survey, from 1850 to present”; Ruben at the Coming Together Immigration Conference, this year on the theme of “The Gospel, the Church & Immigration” (in October at First Baptist Church, Minneapolis), and then the 5th Annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference, “Achieving Peace by Embracing Diversity” (in November at North Park University in Chicago).
We’re barely into April, but Bethel students are already registering for their Fall 2013 courses. In addition to old favorites like American Beginnings, Latin American Civ, and Modern Europe, they’ll find a new option available: HIS356 Modern Middle East.
One of two new courses being offered in 2013-2014 by new hire Amy Poppinga, Modern Middle East gives our students a chance to explore in depth a region of enormous religious, cultural, economic, and political significance. (It also fulfills the Global history requirement for the History major.) We asked Amy for a preview:
What are the major themes of the course?
1. Increase knowledge of the many peoples and cultures that comprise the Middle East by using sound scholarship and personal narratives.
2. Analyze the role Western cultural, political, religious, and economical influences have played in shaping the current realities of the Middle East.
3. Recognize cross-cultural commonalities in human experiences in order to gain a deeper and more appropriate appreciation of both our similarities and our cultural differences.
4. Consider the impact that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have had on the historical development and “story” of the Middle East region.
Of the historical figures you plan to talk about… Whom do you find especially interesting?
One thing that makes the study of recent history in the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) so interesting is the impact of the “ordinary” person. Many of the social, political, and religious changes that have shaped society, at times good and at times bad, can be traced to “the streets.” I’m excited for students to learn the story of Bashir al-Khayri and Dalia Landau, a Palestinian and an Israeli whose chance encounter has led to a lifelong friendship and common commitment to peace and stability for their homelands. I first learned of their story (which is now widely known through the book The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan) through one of my grad school professors who is married to Dalia. This is just one such story but there are so many.
What are some of the pivotal events in the course’s narrative?
There are a few “turning points” that serve as markers for our course. Students often have quite a bit of knowledge and experience with WWI and WWII from and American and European perspective. I’m looking forward to exploring how these wars shaped the Middle East, particularly after WWII. In addition, we focus on how the Arab-Israeli War, the Revolution in Iran, the Iran/Iraq war, and the first and second Gulf War all have shaped the Middle East’s struggles with globalization and westernization.
What most excites you about teaching this course for the first time?
We have many Bethel students and professors who have spent time in the Middle East. This course presents the unique opportunity to draw on the experiences of those around us. I’m looking forward to utilizing podcasts and interviews in ways I have not before.
Secondly, while this is certainly the case with all areas of history to some extent, it is exciting to accept that our content has no official “the end.” This history is literally unfolding, and I am looking forward to working as a team with my students as we all find ways to keep up on current events. I’m predicting each class will need to start with the question, “Did you watch/read the news last night?”
And third… I ♥ GEOGRAPHY!
The principles of geography, particularly the relationship between humanity and land, are key to understanding Middle Eastern history. (Note: Amy also teaches our History and the Human Environment course — offered both fall and spring.) I hope this course widens my student’s understanding of history by demonstrating the role of the environment in shaping political, social, and religious movements.
What do you think students will find most surprising or challenging as they learn about the modern history of the Middle East?
Part of me would like to give this class the title The Middle East: Let’s get the backstory. In certain respects, this is a class that will be taught backwards. We have to start with what we know now, and then we do the investigative work of finding out how we got to where we are. I find that exciting. There’s a tendency to think of 9/11 as the starting point of US/MENA relations. In other courses I have taught that focus specifically on Islam, we have taken this backwards approach and it works really well. There are many “Aha” moments and spaces to pause, ask some self-reflective questions, and then try to put the pieces together. I promise we will get back to the present, but we have to do some tough stuff to build our way back.
If students take away only one thing from the course, what would you like it to be?
That they would walk away convinced that studying other societies, cultures, and religions is a worthy pursuit. Certainly for the sake of becoming a better global citizen but also because it informs and challenges our understanding of our own place in history.
The last week of August makes it seem like we should still have a week of summer left, but today marks the beginning of another academic year at Bethel University. We were excited to meet a bunch of new History and Social Studies Ed majors last Friday during Welcome Week, and will have a welcome back BBQ sometime in September. Here’s what else is happening this fall:
Welcome, Amy Poppinga!
Proud Bethel College alum Amy Poppinga (’99) turned proud Bethel University professor Amy Poppinga is off to a busy start, with all three of her classes meeting today: HIS212U Introduction to the Muslim World, HIS320K History and the Human Environment, and GES130 Christianity and Western Culture. If you haven’t already, please be sure to pass along your greetings and congratulations to Amy! (And stop by and see the newly reconfigured AC 211.)
The Return of AnneMarie Kooistra
We’re also excited to welcome back our resident historian of prostitution, AnneMarie Kooistra, fresh off her spring sabbatical and a productive summer in which she joined scholars from around the country at Yale University for a prestigious seminar on slave narratives and joined other Western Humanities faculty and students in reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (among other books). In addition to Humanities IV, she’ll be teaching courses at either end of the History curriculum: HIS200L American Civilization and HIS499 Senior Seminar.
New (and Returning) TAs
One of the distinctive features of History and other academic departments at Bethel is that undergraduates are employed at teaching assistants (TAs) by our professors. This semester we welcome a new cohort of TAs, almost all of whom will be undertaking such duties for the first time: Alissa Carsten, Sarah Herb, Tom Keefe, Gretchen Luhmann, Katie McEachern, Emily Mensch, and Matisse Murray.
Bethel History Folk at the Conference of Faith and History
The Conference on Faith and History (CFH) will be holding its biennial meeting this October 4-6 at Gordon College in Boston. Bethel will be well represented, as our own Prof. Chris Gehrz will present “You Can Go Home Again: Pietism at Bethel University since 1947” and alum Ben Wright (’05) of Rice University will read his paper, “Conversion, Benevolence, and Nationalism in the American Denominational Imagination.”
This past Tuesday and Wednesday our profs joined their peers for Bethel’s annual, pre-semester Faculty Retreat. For one of the sessions on Tuesday morning college dean Deb Harless asked faculty to cluster together at tables and answer the following question:
What are some hallmarks of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bethel University?
Faculty mentioned everything from Bethel’s Pietist heritage and close-knit community to the centrality of the liberal arts and general education curriculum to the school’s ability to balance academic freedom and Christian commitment.
We’re curious to hear from our alumni and students: What do you think are hallmarks of Bethel? Please use the Comment space to tell us what you think is most distinctive about Bethel — and its History Department.
P.S. Alumni and students will also be happy to learn that their former/current teachers did the department proud throughout the retreat:
The Bethel University Department of History is proud to announce that Amy Poppinga has accepted a tenure-track position and will begin full-time teaching at Bethel starting this fall. Amy graduated from Bethel in 1999 with a B.A. in History and Social Studies Education 5-12. After teaching social studies at a Twin Cities area high school, she shifted course and completed a master’s in Islamic Studies at Luther Seminary. She is currently working towards a doctorate in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Dialogue at the University of Exeter in England, where her dissertation investigates the views of marriage held by young Muslim-Americans.
Amy has also taught several courses at Bethel in recent years, so she is already known to many of our students and recent alumni. But if you haven’t had a chance to meet Amy, or only saw her in one course… We asked her to talk a bit more about herself, especially her connections to Bethel and her interests as a teacher and scholar.
You were a History and Social Studies Ed major as a Bethel student yourself… How did you pick that course of study? What memories of the department and its people stand out from your undergraduate days?
I was a transfer student to Bethel during my sophomore year. I took my first college history course at the U of M at Morris my freshman year. The subject was the Vietnam War. I had a wonderful professor who had actually attended Kent State University and was active in the anti-war movement. Needless to say, she made the subject matter come alive. Also, knowing her own views on the war, I was impressed by her neutrality in her content presentation. I had always enjoyed history, but this class made me realize how nuanced and enriching the study of history can be in capable hands. I knew that I wanted to not only study but teach history as well. A good teacher can help even the students who claim they “hate” school or reading to find some level of connection with the material. I’m biased but I think history can inspire students who may, on the surface, appear tough to inspire.
My first classroom experience at Bethel was in Modern America with Diana Magnuson. In that same semester I also had G.W. Carlson and Kevin Cragg. Again, I was hooked. I also had a great group of classmates who really raised the bar. It was just a dynamic department, too. The professors were all very supportive of each other. As a teaching assistant, you were able to witness the inner workings of the department. Doors were always open to students and faculty/student conversations in the hallway were common. There were only five professors in the department at that time so you were able to interact with all of them regularly, inside and outside the classroom. I felt like I belonged to something, and as a transfer student at Bethel that can be difficult.
How’d you go from working as a high school social studies teacher to pursuing first a master’s degree and now a doctorate in Islamic studies?
I really loved teaching high school. Over time I have figured out that I just love teaching. I like middle schoolers as well as college students! After a few years of teaching, I was ready to go back to school. One of the challenges facing teachers is learning how to effectively connect with students who may be from different cultural or religious backgrounds than the majority. I decided to pursue a degree in Islamic Studies with the intention of returning to the secondary school system as a cultural liaison, working with teachers and staff to better understand the needs of both Somali and Muslim students of varying backgrounds.
Well, shortly after my program began the tragic events of September 11th occurred. There was now a national interest in learning more about Islam. I had stayed in contact with my professors from Bethel, and I was invited to submit a course proposal that would revive a course on Islam that had previously been offered [HIS212U Introduction to the Muslim World]. I enjoyed teaching the course so much that I chose to alter my career plans. This led me to pursue a PhD in Islamic Studies, with the hope of obtaining a full-time position in a college or university.
Tell us a bit about your dissertation. How’d the topic develop? Have you started to draw any conclusions from your research?
One of the things I learned during my senior year at Bethel is that I do my best academic work when there is a human element to my research, specifically interviews. My Senior Sem topic, my master’s thesis, and now my dissertation all follow the same model: start with a person’s story to serve as the backbone of the project and then frame the larger research question around that story.
I was staying with a young Muslim friend at her apartment a few years ago. It was very early in the morning, and I was in the kitchen getting ready to head to the airport to fly home. I could hear her in the living room performing the first of her five daily prayers. As I went to open her fridge I noticed a movie poster from the film “Twilight.” On the poster the two main characters, Edward and Bella, were running hand in hand through the dark forest. Only my friend had taped her picture, in full hijab, over Bella’s face. So here is my friend, a devout Muslim, who also clearly has a little bit of a thing for Edward.
To me, this was a prime example of a person of devout faith who is also clearly influenced by culture. Both Muslims and Christians in America try to balance the influences of faith and culture everyday in almost everything we do. Secondly, marriage is a frequent topic of conversation among young Muslims, just as it is with young Christians I encounter. Both faith and culture shape how young people perceive their relationships and eventual marriage. So, in my dissertation project the intersection of faith and culture serves as the lens used to examine expectations of marriage. It helps that young people seem to really like talking about relationships and marriage. It may not sound on the surface like a historical topic, but it most definitely is. Story telling is history. With each individual’s story, I have to trace their roots and compare their experiences with those of their parent’s generation.
Why would you encourage students at an evangelical Christian university like Bethel to take courses with you on the history of Islam?
I could go on and on about this but it boils down to one of the chief responsibilities we are tasked with as Christians: being a good neighbor. There are roughly 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, around 6-7 million in the U.S., and we have a significant Muslim population right here in Minnesota. In order to have effective relationships with Muslims, we need to be educated. This means separating fact from rumor and hype. We should hear their stories, study their history, and know about their faith. Many of our students will encounter Muslims in their jobs, communities, and extra-curricular interests.
Secondly, the United States has a significant presence in parts of the world that have Muslim majorities. We need to understand the history of these areas in order to better understand both our conversations and our conflicts. Being a good neighbor is not just a local thing, it’s a global thing as well.
What most excites you about coming back to Bethel?
The faculty discount in the campus store?
Just kidding. First, I truly have a passion for teaching and it is a tremendous honor to know that I will get to practice the profession I enjoy in a place that I appreciate. While no place is perfect, I have seen that Bethel is always striving to be better. At the same time, Bethel remains true to its values and core beliefs. I know this is not always easy. I am fortunate that I know many of the people I will be working with in both the History Department and the greater College of Arts and Sciences. It is a weird but wonderful thing to become colleagues and friends with those who have taught you.
I think we all understand that no one can “replace” G.W. Carlson. But since you are joining us in the wake of his retirement… What’s your favorite G.W. story? Do you expect to inherit and continue any G.W. traditions?
I think the best I can hope to achieve is to carry on in the spirit of G.W. Carlson. He has been my professor, my advisor, my employer, and my mentor. To be honest, I am not sure I can conceive of a day-to-day Bethel without G.W.
There are multiple things I admire about G.W. but two that come to mind are his availability to students and his advocacy for the underdog. As a teaching assistant, I must have heard “Well, I’m getting ready to leave…” multiple times each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon only to have G.W.’s departure delayed due to a student, colleague, alumnus, or former classmate stopping by. He would just put his bag and coat on his desk, sit down, and plunk his feet up. He always makes every person who walks through his door feel important, mainly through his personalized greeting that captures both your persona and your stage of life. I have never seen him rush anyone out of his office. In regards to advocacy… You may not be living up to your potential, but if G.W. thinks you have it he will beat it out of you. If you promise to follow through and keep your head up, he will fight for you. And he has a soft spot for the B+/A- folks. Thank goodness!
In terms of what I can inherit, I hope it’s a little bit of the things I just mentioned. In terms of his teaching style, nobody picks course books like G.W. He has never wavered in his commitment to getting students to read, even when there seems to be a general decline in what students can be expected to read. When students come into his office, they are in awe when they look at the walls around them. However, they are not intimidated. They always seem to find it inspiring. His love of learning truly makes them want to read more. I hope that my courses will also allow a good book to become a vehicle for great discussions in the classroom.
Oh! And I fully intend to sneak out at 2pm on Fridays to engage in the frameworks of golf or racquetball!