Thursday, 21 November 2013

Reflections on Teaching Jonathan Edwards

I really enjoy teaching special topics courses. I have taught several of these since arriving at UTC in the fall of 2011. Today, I finished teaching my most recent special topics course: "Jonathan Edwards's Life, Thought, and Legacy in American Religious Culture." This is a course that I designed to coincide with my current research on the publishing history of Edwards's works.

While wrapping things up today, I asked the students for an honest assessment of the difficulty of the class, whether they liked the texts that we used, and suggestions for ways to improve the course. The students said that they thoroughly enjoyed the required readings: George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life, John Smith, Harry Stout, and Ken Minkema's edited volume, A Jonathan Edwards Reader, and Joseph Conforti's Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture. Although one person thought that there was too much reading, the majority of the class said that these three books, and the works that they read for their research paper, was a fair amount to require for this kind of course (Interestingly, one student said that of the three required texts, Joseph Conforti's book was his favorite). I was relieved by these comments since an eminent religious historian at another institution was surprised that I required Marsden's biography, suggesting that perhaps I should have used the more concise A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards instead.

I was also encouraged that the students appreciated the online quizzes that I required. I have written about my move towards online quizzes before, and was excited to learn that this strategy was proving to be successful. Students candidly told me that they would not have read the weekly readings if I had not required these quizzes. They further admitted that the online quizzes could have been easily completed within twenty minutes, as opposed to the allotted time of thirty minutes. This was helpful information for me as I continue to fine tune my classes.

Finally, the students made a point to say how much they appreciated that I spent a few sessions on how to write a research paper. Although this is a 4000 level class (junior/senior), several people admitted that they did not know how to construct a thesis, develop the structure of a paper, how to incorporate quotations, the difference between primary and secondary sources, and how to use evidence to back up particular points in the essay. They were further surprised when I told them to write the body of the paper first, followed by the conclusion, before putting together the introduction.

Below is a syllabus of my course. I would welcome any further comments or suggestions.

Course Description:
This course is a study of Jonathan Edwards’s life, theology, and legacy as it pertains to American religious culture.

Class Schedule: 10:50am-12:05pm, Tuesday/Thursday, Holt 305, 3 credits

Dr. Jonathan M. Yeager, Maclellan Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Office: Holt Hall, 232D
Office Phone: 423-425-5629
Office Hours: T/TR, 12:00pm-2:00pm (other times, by appointment only)

Required Texts:        

  • George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004)
  • John E. Smith, Harry S. Stout, and Kenneth P. Minkema, eds., A Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale University Press, 2003)
  • Joseph A. Conforti, Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture (UNC Press, 1995)
Helpful Resources:

  • M. X. Lesser, Reading Jonathan Edwards: An Annotated Bibliography in Three Parts, 1729-2005 (Eerdmans, 2008)—Available at the Lupton Library
  • Gerald McDermott and Michael McClymond, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University allows students to read and perform searches throughout The Works of Jonathan Edwards.
Course Requirements:

1.                  Exams (20% of grade for each, 400 total points)
Students will take two examinations that are based on the lectures and class discussions. None of the exams, including the final, are comprehensive. All exams must be taken—notifying me within 24 hours if you have a legitimate reason why you cannot be present to take the exam—and no tests will be dropped. 

2.                  Online Reading Quizzes (25% or 250 points)
Students will take 25 online quizzes on the assigned readings in Jonathan Edwards: A Life, A Jonathan Edwards Reader, and Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture. The online reading quizzes consist of 10 multiple choice or true/false questions. All online quizzes are open book, but must be taken alone (honor system). Also, you are not allowed to share any information with other students concerning the quizzes (honor system). It is highly recommended that you complete the required reading before you take the assigned quiz.

To take the appropriate quiz, go to “Assignments” in your Blackboard account and click on the appropriate quiz (Note: you may not print the quizzes). Quizzes will generate from a bank of questions—so they will vary from student to student. Quizzes have a thirty-minute time limit. If you encounter technical difficulties (computer shut off, etc.), you may go back to the quiz—but the clock does not stop ticking, so please use a reliable computer and find a location with adequate internet access. Once thirty minutes have elapsed, the quiz will automatically terminate, even if you haven’t finished inputting all your answers.

Quizzes can be taken at any time up until the beginning of the class (10:50am) on the day that they are due (see schedule below for due dates). 

3.                  Research Paper (25% or 250 points)
Each student will write a research paper on a particular theme in Edwards’s life, thought, or legacy in American religion. Papers should be 3,000 words in length (give or take 500 words), double-spaced, 12 point font, and utilizing both primary (written by Edwards or his disciples) and secondary (written about Edwards or his disciples) sources. The paper should use a minimum of five secondary sources (academic books and journal articles—avoiding websites and general dictionaries). Papers will be assessed a 10% penalty for each day late.

Evaluation for research papers will be based on the following:

Style (20%)
-          Does the student show a mastery of grammar and syntax?
-          Is the paper free from spelling errors?
Introduction (10%)
-          Is there a clear introduction in the paper?
-          Is it clear what the research question is that the student will seek to answer in the paper?
-          Is the introduction sufficiently long to explain what subordinate issues are raised by the research question, justifying the order in which the material is to be addressed?
Conclusion (10%)
-          Is there a clear conclusion in the paper?
-          Is the conclusion sufficiently long enough to explain how the paper has answered the research question the student chose?
-          Does the conclusion recapitulate the reasons for taking a particular point of view, evaluating the importance of those reasons?
The Body of the Paper (30%)
-          Are the paragraphs grouped by main points that contribute to answering the research question?
-          Does the first sentence of the paragraph introduce its topic, helping the reader to know what to expect?
-          Is there sufficient evidence—statistics, specific names or dates, primary-source quotations, etc.—that supports the main point in the paragraph?
-          Does the student use quotations properly by quoting only primary sources and not secondary sources, instead, paraphrasing a secondary-source author and citing him or her?
Overall Argument (30%)
-          Is the overall argument in the paper convincing?

4.                  Attendance and Participation (10% or 100 points)
It is essential that you attend classes regularly and come prepared to take notes on the lectures and participate in class discussion. You are allowed two skips without penalty. I will take attendance until five minutes after the hour. Students arriving after that time will be counted absent. For every absence in excess of two, your attendance and participation grade will be reduced by 20 points. 

5.      Grading Scale
900-1,000         A
800-899           B
700-799           C
600-699           D
Below 600       F

6.                  Course Assignments and Values
Exams                                                             40%
Online Quizzes                                                25%
Research Paper                                               25%
Attendance and Participation____________   10%
Tentative Schedule

8/20     Introduction
8/22     Reading/Quiz 1:         Marsden: Introduction (pp. 1-10), chapter 1 (pp. 11-24), chapter 2 (pp.

8/27     Reading/Quiz 2:          Marsden: chapter 3 (pp. 44-58), chapter 4 (pp. 59-81), chapter 5 (pp. 82-
8/29     Reading/Quiz 3:         A Jonathan Edwards Reader: “Personal Narrative” (pp. 281-96), “The
Spider Letter” (pp. 1-8), “Beauty of the World” (pp. 14-15), “Miscellanies” (pp. 35-48), “Diary” (pp. 266-74), “Resolutions” (pp. 274-80)
9/3       Reading/Quiz 4:          Marsden: chapter 6 (pp. 101-13), chapter 7 (pp. 114-32), chapter 8 (133-
9/5       Reading/Quiz 5:          A Jonathan Edwards Reader: “Images of Divine Things” (pp. 16-21),
                                                “Notes on the Apocalypse” (pp. 49-56), “Apostrophe to Sarah Pierpont”
                                                (p. 281)
9/10     Reading/Quiz 6:          Marsden: chapter 9 (pp. 150-69), chapter 10 (pp. 170-83), chapter 11
9/12     Reading/Quiz 7:          A Jonathan Edwards Reader: A Divine and Supernatural Light (pp. 105-
                                                24), A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (57-87), A
                                                History of the Work of Redemption (pp. 124-36)
9/17     Reading/Quiz 8:          Marsden: chapter 12 (201-13), chapter 13 (214-26), chapter 14 (227-38)
9/19     Reading/Quiz 9:          A Jonathan Edwards Reader: “Letter to George Whitefield, February 12,
                                                1739/40” (pp. 300-02), “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (pp. 89-
                                                105), “Letter to Moses Lyman, May 10, 1742” (pp. 302-03)

9/24     Reading/Quiz 10:        Marsden: chapter 15 (pp. 239-52), chapter 16 (pp. 253-67)
9/26     Reading/Quiz 11:        Marsden: chapter 17 (pp. 268-90), chapter 18 (pp. 291-305)
10/1     Reading/Quiz 12:        A Jonathan Edwards Reader: “The Bad Book Case” (pp. 172-78),
                                                “Receipt for a Slave Venus” (pp. 296-97), A Treatise Concerning
                                                Religious Affections (pp. 137-71)
10/8     Reading/Quiz 13:        Marsden: chapter 19 (pp. 306-19), chapter 20 (pp. 320-40), chapter 21
                                                (pp. 341-56)
10/10   Reading/Quiz 14:        A Jonathan Edwards Reader: An Humble Inquiry (pp. 179-91), “Letter to
Joseph Bellamy, January 15, 1746/47” (pp. 304-06), “Letter to Sarah Pierpont Edwards, June 22, 1748” (pp. 306-07), “Letter to Thomas
Foxcroft, May 24, 1749” (pp. 307-11)
10/15   Reading/Quiz 15:        Marsden: chapter 22 (pp. 357-74), chapter 23 (pp. 375-94), chapter 24
                                                (pp. 395-413)
10/17   Reading/Quiz 16:        Marsden: chapter 25 (pp. 414-31), chapter 26 (pp. 432-46), chapter 27
                                                (pp. 447-58)

10/22   Fall Break
10/24   Reading/Quiz 17:        A Jonathan Edwards Reader: “Letter to Esther Edwards Burr, March 28,
1753” (pp. 311-13), “Letter to Thomas Prince, May 10, 1754” (pp. 314-20), Freedom of the Will (pp. 192-222), “Letter to the Trustees of the
College of New Jersey” (pp. 321-25)

10/29   Reading/Quiz 18:        A Jonathan Edwards Reader: Original Sin (pp. 223-43), The Nature of
                                                True Virtue (pp. 244-65)

10/31   Reading/Quiz 19:        Marsden: chapter 28 (pp. 459-71), chapter 29 (pp. 472-89), chapter 30
                                                (pp. 490-505)

11/5     Reading/Quiz 20:        Conforti: introduction (pp. 1-10), chapter 1 (pp. 11-35)         
11/7     Reading/Quiz 21:        Conforti: chapter 2 (pp. 36-61)
11/12   Reading/Quiz 22:        Conforti: chapter 3 (pp. 62-86)
11/14   Reading/Quiz 23:        Conforti: chapter 4 (pp. 87-107)
                                                Research Paper Due

11/19   Reading/Quiz 24:        Conforti: chapter 5 (pp. 108-44)
11/21   Reading/Quiz 25:        Conforti: chapter 6 (pp. 145-85)

11/26   Final Exam

11/28   Thanksgiving Break: No Class

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