by Madalyn Johnson, Asst. A&E Editor
David Shefferman, Ph.D., has been an associate professor in religious studies at Manhattan College for quite some time. Originally from the Virginia side of Washington, D.C., Shefferman has outstanding credentials that showcase his expertise in studies of religion and teaching in general. He shares great passion and devotion in making students very self-aware about religious practices that, although are deemed cultish and abnormal, surround them in everyday life.
Shefferman shared where it all started, the universities where he studied and received his degrees from, as well as what he was involved in between school.
“For my undergraduate, I went to Princeton and that’s actually where I started, I was a religion major there. I loved the religion classes I took so I did a major in religion, then I was also a politics minor. That’s actually sort of how I continued very generally that combination of religion and intersection of politics,” he said.
Shefferman then took some time off and worked in South America as a high school teacher. He returned to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he received his master’s and doctorate degree. He specialized in Latin America, as well as their religion, political movements and culture.
Dr. Shefferman discussed his experience teaching outside of the country and also how long he has been a part of the Jasper community.
“Starting from grad school, I was very teacher-oriented as well. I was essentially teaching all the way through the four years before I went to grad. school. But at Manhattan, this is the start of my fifteenth year which I cannot believe. It wasn’t that long ago I was new to Manhattan College, can’t really claim that anymore,” he said.
Dr. Shefferman’s dedication and passion for teaching date way back before he started as a professor at MC. He describes how he is fond of different types of religions despite the fact he isn’t a very religious person.
“Starting as an undergrad, like I said I just became really fascinated to what my surprise with religious studies, as someone who’s not a religious person but seen now as such a major influence so it’s kind of an understanding of the world and an understanding of history. I love the philosophical and ethical sides to studying different traditions. I also knew I really wanted to teach and I got really lucky, teaching at a prep school when I first graduated and coached (I was an athlete). They needed someone to teach comparative religion as well as composition and things like that, I had a background in,” he said.
Among the numerous classes Dr. Shefferman teaches at Manhattan College, his introductory course, The Nature and Experience of Religion, Religion and Spanish Identity, The American Religious Experience, Religion and the Media, and Religion and Environmentalism, Shefferman mentioned that he is most interested in the topics covered in his Afro-Caribbean course.
“A lot of my research and scholarly work and specialization is in the Carribean, so I teach a course in which I’m doing now, ‘Afro-Carribean Religions’ and I love teaching that course and including a little section in the 110 class, a day focused on Buddhism, so I love teaching that material because it’s so interesting and complicated and surprising and new to students. Certainly the Afro-Caribbean stuff is one of my main things,” he said.
Although Shefferman may utilize New York City as an Arches classroom for certain projects or lessons, he explained how he tries not to differentiate the Arches class from the other courses he teaches.
“It’s a lot of the same approaches but I do try to incorporate the moving beyond the classroom, because it helps students see and encounter these topics they may not see in their own world. So I think in Arches it is a little more kind of deliberate and planned in certain ways because it’s in the Arches objective to use New York City as a resource and classroom. I think Arches is really for me, and most of us who do it, is kind of getting your toes wet and an introduction to all these possibilities and all these other resources we try to use in our classes. Other classes might have more essays as opposed to in-class tests, but it’s pretty consistent. The curriculum and the kinds of assignments and even the kinds of activities, what were doing in class, the small group discussions,” he said.
Shefferman shared his favorite trips he’s taken MC students to over the years, in addition to the connections he and the students have made when participating in community service projects.
“I take the classes almost every semester to the Rubin Museum and I always love it, I see it differently every time. Almost every year (or semester), we’ve gone to a Broadway show. I loved, last year, when we went to ‘Once On This Island’. It was a great show; I just thought it tied in well with what we were doing–talking about voodoo. That is one that sticks out in my mind. A few years ago we saw ‘Groundhog Day’, before it closed, it was awesome and there’s something kind of Buddhist in that show and it worked really well. In the service learning, I’ve really enjoyed the connections, relationships and partnerships we’ve made, they’re now good friends of mine, at the Church of the Mediator,” Shefferman said.
Even though one community service project from last year will not run this fall semester, Shefferman revealed other projects that MC will continue to work and volunteer for in relation to their religious studies courses.
“The Green Fair actually isn’t happening this year but we’re still helping the Church of the Mediator with many activities, like the community gardening, the farmer’s market that we did last year. We’re going to continue with Marble Hill. Those are the main partners the program has, and it’s worked really well,” he said.
The historical, philosophical and ethical sides Dr. Shefferman sees in religion applies to his objective in what he wants his students to get out of his classes.
“To try to help students understand that religion matters, it’s part of our world, the critical and academic study of religion is really important in making sense in our world. It helps students realize and recognize that, and of course to try to introduce things that are going to be new and surprising and interesting. But also, to try to work on those skills, put students in the position to make better sense of things they’re going to come across and encounter, so critical thinking skills,” Shefferman said.