Randolph College’s 2018-19 academic year is officially underway, and there are several new faces among the faculty.
Brennan Keegan, visiting instructor in American culture, is one of the new additions:
Where are you from originally and what is your background?
I grew up outside of Portland, Oregon, and went to the small liberal arts school Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where I received a B.A. in religion. After I graduated, I headed to Montana where I worked at a dude ranch and later at a restaurant as a pastry chef (baking and skiing were my primary activities).
I made my way back to academia with a job at an environmental non-profit, where I worked on a variety of natural resource management issues. The combination of ranches, national parks, and Native American reservations set in the dramatic landscape of the Rocky Mountains made it clear that religion and land management were deeply entwined. I started to take graduate classes in environmental humanities at Montana State University and eventually moved to Durham, North Carolina, to complete a Ph.D. in religious studies. My dissertation explored the religious lives of ethnic and religious minorities in the 19th-Century Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on how different acts of labor, of living on and with the land, resulted in unique religious questions and innovations.
Through the lens of lived religion and human geography, my research continues to look at the ways in which diverse communities grappled with what it means to be religious, western, and American. Before coming to Randolph, I taught undergraduate courses at Duke and Elon Universities—my favorite was Harry Potter and Religion.
What attracted you to the job at Randolph?
My own experience at a small liberal arts college motivated me to pursue a career in academia. Finding a position at an institution that valued the liberal arts, student-faculty relationships, small class sizes, and engaged learning was my dream, and Randolph fit the bill. I love the community-oriented campus and am excited about my courses and students. As the Ainsworth Visiting Scholar, I not only get to teach courses in religious studies, but will also help direct the American Culture Program—an innovative and hands-on program exploring my favorite topics.
What classes are you teaching this fall?
This fall I am teaching American Gods, a course in which we analyze the tensions between American religious consensus and an abiding religious and cultural pluralism; Religion in Native North America, a course in which we evaluate the rich diversity and complexity of Native American practices and beliefs; and the new first-year course Common Experiences.
Describe your teaching style. What can students expect out of your classes?
I strive to create an inclusive and equitable classroom in which students are collaborators in their own learning. I prefer papers over tests, student-centered discussions over lecturing any day, and use Moodle to encourage student forum posts and reading comprehension. Students can expect readings that are challenging, but interesting, and lively discussions about the role of religion in American history and culture. Students will encounter journal entries from the 18th Century, newspaper clippings from the 19th Century, as well as contemporary sound clips, news reels, and films as we seek to understand how religion is really lived and practiced by diverse communities.
What are your initial impressions of Randolph and its students?
Randolph students strike me as incredibly committed to community—to the bonds formed with their peers and faculty, as well as in the ways they respect and celebrate difference. Students in my courses have already proven themselves to be socially engaged and interested in questions about justice, accountability, and diversity. They ask big questions of our texts and authors and connect American religious history to the present moment.
What sorts of hobbies or fun activities do you enjoy outside of the classroom?
When not in the classroom I like to run and hike, bake, read nerdy novels, watch bad television, and spend time with my partner and old yellow Labrador.