Dr. Ted Vehse’s Home Page
Ph.D., The University of Chicago
Specializations: the History of Religions, Judaism, the Western humanities
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My experience and taste in undergraduate teaching are eclectic. Courses I have taught at WVU incorporate elements of everything from highly specialized disciplinary theory to practical strategies in college composition. I am more of a polymath than an “expert,” but my interests in religious studies lie in the realm of method. My specialties include ritual theory and socio-contextual historiography. Topically, my research interests are early 19th-century German Judaism and informal rituals of contemporary Western popular culture. Learning is about experience and experience about learning. For this reason, I incorporate both abstract reflection and personal encounter into my classes. My introductory courses in religious studies focus on questions of theory. I consider “What is religion?” to be the most basic question. (It happens also to be one of the oldest unresolved issues in this surprisingly young discipline.) Religious studies relates closely to other disciplines such as history, philology and linguistics, psychology, and anthropology, making questions of method and theory essential.
Why is religious studies necessary? Why not study anthropology instead? To questions such as these, students of religion must formulate coherent answers. Of course, the study of religion cannot be exclusively a matter of theory. Once one has defined “religion” one must examine cases of actual religions to see if the definition stands up. In the Origins of Judaism, therefore, I focus on the development of the tradition and the structural elements of its “classical” expressions. Of equal importance to this course are samples of contemporary Jewish literature, from which students can get a “feel” for this vibrant, living religion. To understand religion is to understand an important part of what it means to be human in the messy, interesting world in which we live.
At any given moment, I usually have several scholarly irons in the fire. I recently published an article in the Oxford Forum on Public Policy on the relationship between the natural sciences and the humanities, entitled “From Outside-In to Inside-Out: Rethinking the Two Cultures and the Contribution of C. P. Snow.” One day, I hope to complete a translation of the original prayerbook of the New Israelite Temple in Hamburg, the world’s first Jewish Reform congregation. Finally, I am planning an eventual book-length interpretive study of James M. Redfield’s, Nature and Culture in the Iliad: the tragedy of Hector, one of the lesser-known but more important works for ritual theory.