An ethnographer’s work is metaphorically embodied; eye for detail and ear for story, to start, are crucial to writing about culture. Elaine Lawless, MU Professor of Folklore Studies in the English Department, shows us that ethnography also requires heart and nerve. Heart allows scholars to listen empathically to the perspectives and opinions of the people being written about, enriching scholarship with insider perspective; nerve for advocating social change makes scholarship ever relevant to the service of humanity.
Being a religious studies professor means that Robert Baum is frequently asked about his own religion, to which he responds cheerfully, “I’m an Evangelical Africanist,” a remark that reveals his “deep commitment to make sure Africa is included whenever we talk about the world.” Running through all of Baum’s work—whether teaching, research, or outreach—is a value on religious literacy, the desire to promote a better understanding of the world’s major religions.
A rainbow of feathers floats upward like a psychedelic butterfly. Fingers of color, violet and lime green, seem to flow outward from the tips of the wings. If you didn’t know better, you might assume it is a work of art. Beyond their beauty, for Shawn Christ these images taken at MU’s new Brain Imaging Center reveal the brain’s activity and connections. In his role as Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of MU’s Clinical Neuropsychology Laboratory, Christ studies how the relationship between the brain and behavior changes as we develop. Christ chose a career in psychology because it would combine two passions— working with kids and solving puzzles.
What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. “At the time of the slave trade, for example, most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves,” explains Sharon Welch, Professor of Religious Studies. As a social ethicist, Welch researches not just the way individuals make moral choices, but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.” To that effect, all of her projects coalesce around such issues of social morality.
Since he joined MU’s Religious Studies Department in 2005, Robert Baum has been a very busy guy. Beyond teaching courses in the areas of indigenous religions, Islam, and the history of religions, Baum also currently serves as chair of the Religious Studies Department and is involved with numerous other departments and programs at MU. For instance, he is affiliated with the Women and Gender Studies Department, the Black Studies Program, the Afro-Romance Institute, and the Folklore, Oral Tradition, and Culture Program. Baum has also been active in developing an African Studies Initiative and in participating in the Center for Arts and Humanities, the Pew Center on Religion and the Professions, the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, and the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative.
Christ works with at least thirteen other departments on the MU campus. His collaborators range from the College of Education to the department of Religious Studies. The one thing they all share is a fascination with the way the brain works and the desire to watch it work.
“What I’m really interested in is called social ethics,” Welch explains. What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular _zeitgeist_—the spirit of the times. For example, at the time of the slave trade, “most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves.” As a social ethicist, Welch has been trying to understand not just the way individuals make moral choices but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.”
Jonassen describes some practical examples of this model at work: the successful utilization of problem-based learning in the MU medical school and in the department of Religious Studies. He calls for education reform that includes more problem-based learning in other fields.