Where did your journey start with the Psychology Department?
I grew up in Kalamazoo. I was teaching high school in Galveston, Texas when I was accepted here into the Culture & Cognition Program, in which I was very eager to participate. I was originally attracted to the Culture & Cognition Program because it was the best way of exploring the parallel developments in different religious traditions. I did my doctorate in Anthropology, teaching lots and lots of Intro Psych along the way and I’ve been a Lecturer since 2003.
What does teaching in the Psychology Department mean to you?
We humans are a creature without parallel on this planet—a marvel “a little lower than the angels,” as the Psalmist put it. My fundamental interest has always been human nature, but the ultimate solution to the anthropological question—“What is a human being?”—turns out to be psychological—“That life-form with a uniquely upgraded mind.” Teaching in the Psychology department gives me the opportunity to share with others my appreciation of and enthusiasm for our shared humanity. Ideally, each class is a collaboration toward understanding our own experiences of humanity in terms of the ecological, biological, and cultural processes that define our little moment in history. We are marvelous creatures living in an amazing universe—if only we will put in the work to appreciate it!
What other ways are you involved in the Department and beyond and what inspired you to get involved in these ways?
I am presently involved in the campus community concerned with teaching mindfulness. I was invited to join that group because I’ve mentored little student groups in mindfulness practices, and I am a student of Shaolin kungfu, the martial art purportedly founded along with Zen Buddhism, the major source of mindfulness practices, at least here in the US. So I suppose I fell into that by the associations I have, though I don’t particularly like the term mindfulness. I have also been involved with church groups. In these contexts my primary aim is to help people (and to be helped by them) in relating traditional cultural wisdom to people in modern conditions. Religious traditions in particular often harbor tremendous insights, but they must be approached in somewhat unusual ways to appreciate what they are.
What advice would you give to aspiring Psychology students?
When students want to study psychology as a means to a profession, my first suggestion is to learn how scientific fields actually work: Thomas Kuhn’s classic Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a great place to start (and will help them to use the word paradigm properly). It is also important to observe and to talk to successful researchers, especially those in advanced stages of their careers.
I also urge them to read classic works—especially books—by leading lights in the different periods of Psychology’s history. Psychology has not always been about the same things, or about the same things in the same ways, and it is helpful to have an appreciation for the fundamental issues that keep cropping up, again and again, in our field. In my experience, at least, the really big issues—What form should psychological knowledge take? What point of view ought it adopt? What is the purpose of this knowledge? What do we make of experience?—are seldom articulated in any direct or explicit manner, nor have I seen them discussed in any textbook. Yet it seems to me they keep cropping up in various forms.