This is the first week of classes at the University of Alabama. And while I’ve been on campus for a number of weeks, it’s good to have students back (though “back” for those returning is a new place to me).
Four years ago, when I had moved from LA to PA, I had a senior enrolled in my introduction to religious studies course. And toward the end of the semester, he made a really insightful comment that I have yet to forget. He said that every four years, a college campus reinvents itself as a completely new set of students takes occupancy.
When I talk to senior colleagues, particularly those who’ve been established at an institution for some time, they share how the years kind of blend together. Though I have taught at a few different institutions now, I think I share some frame of reference with these scholars and the latest Star Wars sage, Maz Kanata.
But I think there’s something useful for thinking about the seasons in one’s life and what one might do with the time one has. And I find that positively refreshing.
This semester I’m teaching one class: Islam. It’s prepped and ready to go for the most part. As I said on Twitter a few days ago:
I’ve taught this course a few times, and it has become one of my favorites. I’m using a book that I’ve been wanting to use: Aaron W. Hughes Muslim Identities (New York Columbia University Press, 2013). I’ve got some techniques that I’ll be using that I’m excited about–but I’ll save that discussion for another time. Right now though, I’m just excited to be alive and to have another first day.
I’m nervous but not anxious. And that’s exactly where I want to be. I’ve had the time to enjoy the company of new colleagues and work hard on some new projects. I’ve met some fantastic students. And I’ve done all that I can and need to do for my first class.
I’ve also had some pleasant surprises leading up to the big day. Many old friends have sent me messages of one kind or another. And I have the good fortune of joyful memories…simple things like this wonderful piece that Nyasha Junior sent me before my last first day that I recommend to all newbies. I’ve been here before, and I’m also going somewhere uncharted.
And while that can be unnerving–as it was when I couldn’t remember where I parked my car today–I’ve somehow come to a place in my life where I can see the charm in that.
So to those who’ve asked, how I’m doing—“I’m grateful.”
Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @seedpods