I completed two M.A. degrees in Classics at The University of Michigan (1991) and in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota (1994). My PhD in religious studies is from The Catholic University of America, where I focused on Syriac Christianity in the Middle East. I have been a full-time lecturer at Eastern Michigan University in the Department of History and Philosophy since 2007. In 2010-11 I was selected by EMU as the “lecturer of the year.” That same year, I learned about the “Reacting” pedagogy through a conference at Barnard College and began to use it often in my classes. In 2012 I took a senior lecturing post in the newly formed program in Jewish Studies.
The “Reacting” methods I use in the classroom and in my books has recently won me education recognition. In 2018 I won an award for community bridge-building and in 2019 an award for learning partnerships. I regularly give presentations on the need for education to involve engagement and interaction.
The Memoirs books on Jesus and the first-generation church build on my experience in the classroom teaching about important figures in history, like Muhammad, Confucius, and Socrates. The second book, Memoirs of How It All Began, won the 2020 Inspiration Award for Bible Studies.
Having published over 20 academic articles on the background of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I also have authored or edited several books—one of which recently came out in the fall of 2020 on the letters of Peter and Paul. I have given over 12 papers in the past five years, and been a keynote speaker for the American Oriental Society.
In 2014 I was invited to the Brandeis University (Boston) Center for the Study of Israel and participate in their program regularly. I have traveled many times to the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and the Territories) and India (2022) for extensive periods. I am in the process of developing my own Reacting game for students to learn about Islam from a historical perspective.
I am a member of an ecumenical brotherhood called Servants of the Word, and we work with youth all over the world. I am Roman Catholic, though we have many Protestant and Orthodox men in our group.
We have a household in the American city of Detroit, where I have lived and worked with the needs of a diverse urban community now for over 20 years. During my time in the city I have been involved with a teen-employment and formation program called YouthWork-Detroit, as well as in an intentional community called Detroit Community Outreach. Reflecting on my experience here in Detroit, I recently put together a podcast called “Reconnecting the Threads” (https://anchor.fm/reconnecting-the-threads). Check it out!
I also am founder of a guild of university instructors from Michigan called the Socratic Club, through which we explore how spirituality has an impact on our teaching. In my time off, I write poetry and try to keep in shape. And I pray!
Interview With the Author
What got you into “performative” studies in the first place?
Eight years ago, a colleague invited me to explore a new way of teaching the humanities. So I attended a conference at Barnard College and quickly discovered that this new pedagogy (called Reacting) put the burden of learning more on the student than on the teacher. I had a full gamut of courses that I would teach every semesters, from ancient history to comparative religion to modern European history; and I was getting worn out by the daily lecturing routine. This new approach turned over the reins of the classroom to the ones who are learning. They have far more energy than I, and with a little guidance can channel it into learning enthusiasm.
How does it work?
The main way this pedagogy works is through engagement. If you put the student or participant in the role of someone or something in the story, you can now make that person “perform” or “react.” This in itself forces responsibility on the learner instead of on the teacher. When you factor in team members and “opposing” teams, you only compound the urgency of the learner to improve the performance by study and preparation.
What does the teacher or group leader do?
For sure, the one in charge needs to choose what the lesson of any given session is. Then the ground rules need to be laid out for all the participants. A teacher or group leader needs to be knowledgeable enough to navigate the way ahead for the learners. The one in charge crafts the questions to be raised and helps the various teams or performers get ready. Then, when the performance session begins, he or she needs to monitor and occasionally intervene to make sure that the interchange among participants stays on track. At the end, the teacher or group leader calls everyone together and “debriefs” to make sure that everyone gets a chance to give their impressions of the exercise, even while summing up the main points learned.
Why is it sometimes called a “game?”
Gaming is huge among my students. A game allows someone to escape their current “reality” and put themselves in a different and perhaps more exciting world. Isn’t that what learning ought to be? In a performance Bible study, a participant can leave behind the 21st century and throw themselves into another context and thereby gain exciting new insights and perspectives on the passage and on his or her life. Combine that with the prompting of teams, and you have a game.