Carolyn Medine, professor of religion and African American studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, emphasizes that reading, writing and thinking critically and creatively are skills that students can use in any class.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and my doctorate at the University of Virginia. Here, at UGA, I am joint-appointed within the religion department and the Institute for African American Studies. I am affiliated with the Institute for Women’s Studies. I am also the graduate coordinator for the religion department.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2000. A colleague who used to teach here advised me of a possible position, and I applied. Coming here gave me the chance to teach in African American studies and also to have graduate students. Plus, I am closer to my family in North Carolina than I was at Louisiana State University.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I love teaching my “Religion and Literature” course. It is my disciplinary specialty, and I always enjoy it, whether I am teaching the C.S. Lewis and Tolkien version or another topic. I also enjoy teaching the “Theory and Methods” course for graduate students in religion and First-Year Odyssey seminars. I like teaching our freshmen; they are so smart.
What interests you about your field?
I have always loved the arts and been obsessed with the “BQs” — the big questions, as one of my teachers at UNC called them — the eternal questions about life and meaning. My area is arts, literature and religion, and I get to work on cultural production of all kinds. I think that artists have their fingers on the pulse of the times in which they live. They see more than the ordinary person, so they face the big questions before all of us. And, in general, this is a timely moment to be studying religion. It asks the BQs: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? How should I treat the “other”? And religion plays a giganticrole in everything that is happening in the world; it always has, actually. So, I feel like I am at the heart of what people do: they experience and express, either for good or ill.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have had so many great moments here. I loved being in my Center for Teaching and Learning Senior Teaching Fellows group. It was fun to be with all those wonderful teachers from all across campus. That led to being a member of UGA’s Teaching Academy, which is wonderful; a room full of dedicated teachers. I also have had great students who have done great things. I had a student, Shaunteri Skinner, do honors work on Malcolm X last year. She went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library, and did archival research. It was so great to see someone find her research focus. I’ve had a good career here.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I teach what I write and think about. I think that teaching makes me a better researcher. I have to be clear in the classroom, and students ask the hard questions — often, the “So, why should I care about that?” question. That’s powerful.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they get transferrable skills. I think that reading, writing and thinking critically and creatively are skills they can use in any class, not just a religion or African American studies class. But I also hope they get excited and catch on fire about something. I remember the teacher who inspired that in me, and I am eternally grateful. It’s powerful to know you have asked a good question and begun the quest to find the answers, which change throughout life.
Describe your ideal student.
I don’t think I have an ideal. I just like students in general. I like the ways they work with us, and I am challenged by the ways they resist us. I learn something from each one.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is …
… 205C Peabody Hall with a really engaging/engaged class, like my seminar on Alice Walker.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to …
… play with my dogs and read. I like to be at home. I also like working with young teacher-scholars, which I do in my work with the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion.
Community/civic involvement includes ….
My community work is with the Secular Franciscan Order at the University of Georgia Catholic Center. We do apostolates in the community. Our group seems to be called to feed people.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
My favorite movie is “To Kill a Mockingbird” and that is my favorite book, too. Harper Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman,”which was an early draft of “Mockingbird,” challenged me, but after reading it with my freshmen, I reached my peace with it. I came out with a greater appreciation for “Mockingbird.” The film is a masterpiece. Once I got to meet Horton Foote, the screenwriter, so I feel like I understand the process of making the film.
Proudest moment at UGA?
There are so many. I have accomplished a lot around teaching and learning, and I am proud of that. Becoming a full professor was a proud moment. I think I feel proud after each good class — but more proud of the students than of myself. I love classroom moments when I disappear as the teacher and just direct conversation. Lots of moments.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s been a pleasure to teach at the University of Georgia. I hope our students and the citizens of our state recognize what a treasure the institution is. A lot of terrific work goes on here, both practical and theoretical. It’s a lively place to be, and I learn something new about what happens here all the time. It’s an amazing place.
(Originally published Aug. 14, 2016)