Devin Singh

Social theorist / religion scholar / critical visionary

Teaching Philosophy:

Devin Singh's pedagogical approach aims to foster analytical skills in assessing texts, evaluating self and society, and considering ethical and other practical implications of the material studied. Rather than simply a transfer of content or deposit of knowledge, he aims for a critical learning process that evaluates received tradition and seeks to address questions raised by our contemporary context. Furthermore, Singh sees learning as formative and regards the best pedagogical practices as those that consider ends such as civic engagement, public service, and the responsible application of knowledge and skills outside the classroom. Teaching and learning require critical self-reflexivity about the methods employed and content conveyed. They also call for attention to affective, empathic, and relational forms of knowing, in addition to rationalist and cognitive approaches. Singh runs a student-centered classroom driven primarily by discussion, delving deeply together into the text and dialogically interpreting and seeking understanding. He prefers to present material conversationally, posing problems for analysis.  Student evaluations often invoke themes of “clarity,” “accessibility,” and “approachability” with regard to his teaching style, and speak of the classroom as a space where their “voice could be heard” and authentic dialogue could happen.

 

Examples of courses taught at Dartmouth and Yale:

Religion and Social Capital:

Why are relationships important? Why does reputation matter? Why is community crucial? How does trust emerge? Is there something sacred about social bonds? This class explores the idea of social capital and its significance for analyzing religion, culture and society. We first seek to grasp the idea of “capital” as applied to the social and relational world, examining why social theorists have found this a useful lens of analysis. What does it mean to have social and cultural capital? We then explore how and why human communal bonds are formed and whether such interactions might justifiable be called “sacred” or “religious.” We consider gifts and reciprocity as ways we forge human connection, exploring philosophical and anthropological reflection on these practices. We examine changes in how community bonds are formed in light of globalization and new technology. We review concerns about the loss of community and connection, and about the barriers to access and advancement faced by those with less social capital. We also consider religious and ethical reflection on social capital as applied to human and divine beings.

Read some reflections on integrating theology into this course.

 

What Matters:

What does it mean to say that something matters and how can we know that it does? This is an introductory course to modern religious thought, examining the quest for meaning, value, and significance as captured in religious, ethical, and philosophical language in Western tradition. The intent is to provide students with a broad exposure to various ways humans in modernity have attempted to make sense of their condition. What are some of the changes brought about by life in the modern world that prompt new questions about human life and purpose? What new answers have been provided to explain our place in the cosmos and reason for being? We explore questions of belief, value, significance, meaning, suffering, love, and justice.

 

God and Money:

This course introduces students to the problems and concerns of the study of religion by examining the interaction between economic and religious discourse and practice. We will explore money as a social phenomenon, a way human communities construct meaning and relationships, deal with power and obligation, and communicate what matters to them. We seek to understand what money is, how it interacts with moral categories like guilt and human value, and how it shapes areas of life such as consumption, work culture, friendship, love, and sex. We also examine perspectives emerging from religious and ethical traditions concerning the presence of money in modern life. In so doing, we grapple with issues of individual and communal meaning, identity, and value judgment, as well as the challenge of defining what counts as religion—concerns that are integral to the discipline of religious studies and central to humanistic inquiry more broadly.

 

Religion and Political Power in Western Tradition:

This course provides an introduction to the relationship between religion and politics as it has been conceived in Western tradition. It is intended to provide students with a basic historical and theoretical framework for thinking about the tensions and possibilities that emerge in the encounter between religious and political thought, institutions, and communities in contemporary society. This course challenges the popular assumption (in much of the West, at least) that religion and politics are self-evident and clearly distinct spheres with their own logics and aims. Instead, we examine the ways that the boundaries between religion and politics have been continually blurred in Western thought, and consider how the categories “religion” and “politics” are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

Discussion of course on Political Theology Syllabus Project.

 

Modern Christian Thought:

This course acquaints students with many of the recurring themes and concerns, commonalities and differences within modern Christian thought. Arguably the defining mark of such thought is its response to the Enlightenment, with its redefinition of concepts of knowledge, belief, freedom, nature and humanity’s place within it, for instance, not to mention its explicit reconfiguration of ideas of God and religious authority. In the face of such challenges, modern theology demonstrates both continuity and discontinuity with foregoing Christian tradition, drawing on ancient and modern sources, while employing novel methods of inquiry and presentation. It finds itself appealing to new types of authority in making a case for its continued relevance in a world “come of age.” The class explores topics and movements such as rationalism, romanticism, liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, black theology, and feminist theology.

 

Religion and Economy in Social Theory:

This course introduces students to three theoretical approaches to conceiving of the relationship between religious and economic thought and practice in modern society. We address schools of thought associated with Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, labeled Marxist, structural functionalist, and modernization approaches, respectively (although, as we shall see, categorical boundaries can become blurred). Each of these approaches offers useful ways of assessing and interpreting major forces at work in modernity, and each retains critical relevance in contemporary social scientific scholarship. The course aim is threefold: first, we seek to develop an understanding of the basic claims and concerns of these approaches in their analyses of modern society, broadly construed. Second, we seek, more particularly, to gain competency in these approaches’ depictions of religion, the economy, and the relationship between these two spheres of life. Third, we will test a working hypothesis for this course that grasping how these approaches portray the relationship between religion and economy reveals key concerns and assumptions operating in their theories overall.