As students, we often don’t get to hear about what our professors are like outside of a classroom setting as a normal human being. This semester, I took a really great class offered at The University of Texas at Austin: Intro to the New Testament.
It is a fascinating class, studying the social and historical context of early Christianity, and it is taught by Professor Steve Friesen. In this blog post, we get to hear about how he views his job…
1. Describe your job.
I am a professor of the New Testament and of early Christianity at The University of Texas at Austin. My research is in the broad study of religion, asking questions such as “What is religion?” and other theories concerning religion. It does not just center Christianity but also early Greek and Roman religions.
As a professor, my job can be broken down into three parts: one is teaching, two is doing research (on the social and economic history of early Christianity, the book of Revelation, apocalyptic, and different types of worship), and third is service, which is like the administrative duties as an employee to this university.
2. Why did you decide to teach at UT and not at a seminary?
Well, where you end up really depends on who offers you a job. Personally, I am more interested in the study of religion, not theology, which is the focus of most seminaries, and that’s probably why I was hired by universities. Seminaries also teach from an insider’s point of view and encourage the lifestyle of Christian living.
I also prefer teaching at a public university over a private one, because it’s treated more as a responsibility to the public, though it may produce tension. I used to teach in Columbia, Missouri and comparing that to Austin, Texas, people in Texas seems to have a stronger sense of identity. They also tend to be more conservative, and it seems like there are more Protestants here.
3. What are challenges you face as a religious studies professor?
There are many. One is creating an open atmosphere for students to express their ideas without being bashed by other students. Sometimes, we have strongly-opinionated people who want to take over the conversations. Also, it is fine for the students to disagree, but the main point we’re trying to get at is for the students to gain understanding of this subject.
At certain times throughout the semester, we talk about issues that may be sensitive to some people, so one of the challenges is to take consideration of the different backgrounds in the classroom dynamic and help the students not to feel overwhelmed by the conversations.
4. What are some of the religious things you see on campus?
Rez Week really marks its presence on campus every year, and from time to time, you receive emails from students making announcements about certain events. I also noticed that Muslim students are taking initiatives on uniting the campus, you know, they’ve had a difficult past 10 years.