Category Archives: Teaching

What Two Deaths Taught Me about Doing Fieldwork

On November 7, 2012, I published this post on the Black, White and Gray blog hosted by Patheos.

“On this day 16 years ago—November 7, 1996—I walked in to my office at the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San Jose, Costa Rica, to find out that my boss, Joaquin Tacsan, had boarded a flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos, Nigeria that had exploded in the air. No one had survived.

Joaquin’s death hit me like a ton of bricks. I had recently graduated from Yale and someone told to apply for an internship at the Arias Foundation. For some reason, Joaquin saw my resume and offered me a job there. In the first 12 months, Joaquin increased my responsibilities, sending me to do fieldwork in El Salvador and Nicaragua on the reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life, fieldwork that took me into numerous former zones of armed conflict and strongly shaped my later interest in earning a Ph.D. in sociology.

Just a couple of months before Joaquin’s death, I scared the daylights out of him by spending a weekend with a group of ex-Contras in Nicaragua…”

Click here to read the full post.

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Why I Love Teaching Sociology of Religion

Published on the Black, White and Gray blog on December 14, 2011. Click here to see the full post.

“Unlike other sociology classes I teach at UNC, students who come to this class are not (for the most part) sociology majors. Many are religious studies majors, some are in biology, and many in English. All come because they are curious about religion, but not necessarily sociology of religion.

So I start them off with difficult readings from Daniel Pals’ Eight Theories of Religion on Weber and Marx, along with Karen Fields’ introduction to Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. I mix more contemporary readings for those weeks to show why those theories are still relevant. Then I have them go out and observe a religious service and apply one of those theories to what they observed.

Undergraduates are very skilled observers of the social world, and I always look forward to reading their observations about Mormon congregations, megachurches, Bob Jones University chapel, and a whole host of religious organizations I have never heard of but are right under my nose.”

Click here to see the full post.

Women’s Dignity in the Workplace

Published on November, 16, 2011, on the Black, White and Gray blog, my thoughts on what Edith Stein insights offer to women in the professions.

“Although she points out that women’s temperament will likely lead them in greater proportion to certain professions like art, history, and the humanities, Stein insisted that some women will also shine in physics, medicine, politics, and diplomacy. Stein is right on when she says “there is no profession which cannot be practiced by a woman” (Woman, p. 47).

But beyond saying that women can shine in every profession, Stein calls women to exercise their professions as women: “The participation of women in the most diverse professional disciplines could be a blessing for the entire society, private or public, precisely if the specifically feminine ethos would be preserved” (Woman, p. 49). What does this mean?”

To read the full article, click here.

The Media and Research on Religion

On October 26, 2011, I wrote on the Black, White and Gray blog about how I am teaching students to integrate peer-reviewed research on religion with what they read in the media (newspapers, magazines, and online).

Here’s part of what I had to say. To see the full post, click here.

“This year, for the first time ever, I will allow students to include newspapers, magazines, and online media in their research papers. To do so, however, they must follow several strict guidelines. First, they must only use newspapers/magazines/online sources in addition to (not instead of) scholarly sources. Second, they can only search a limited set of newspapers/magazines/online sources which I as a scholar know provide generally good information on religion. Third, I worked with UNC’s research library staff to discuss with students how to analyze sources for credibility, accuracy and bias.”

Identical Triplets!

Parfait Gasana, the co-recipient of the 2009 Odum Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Sociology at UNC, with his identical triplet brothers. They were the first known identical triplets born in Rwanda–and apparently doctors came from all over to have a look!

With two of my best students

Parfait Gasana and Mary Torr were two of the best students in the first class I ever taught at UNC: Sociology/Management 415: Economy and Society (Fall 2007).

Mary Torr and Family


After three years in the Navy and having three boys, Mary Torr enrolled at UNC. After graduation, she will pursue a Master’s in Social Work at NC State. She wrote a senior thesis on children in foster care.