Sinclair professor uses travels to enrich students

To describe Sinclair Community College professor Amanda Hayden’s desk is to describe an assortment of books and religious items: little Buddhas, a yarmulke and an African fertility doll, and a number of other items are scattered across her office space. Some of the items represent a subject she knows well – religion –as she has been teaching several religion courses, including Women in Religion, at Sinclair since 2003.
The 32-year-old native of St. Louis attended Belleview Area Community College for two years before transferring to and eventually graduating from Southern Illinois University with a double major in Philosophy and Psychology.
“The entire time I was doing my studies, I was always drawn to comparative religions, world cultures,” Hayden said. “I was always doing all of my projects and papers on it and so I decided to pursue (the subject) for graduate school.”
Hayden found herself in Ohio by attending Miami University in Oxford, where she received her Graduate degree.
Her own experience with a community college led to her wanting to teach at one.
“I loved the teachers. They were real, they were attentive. They seemed to really love teaching,” Hayden said. “When I got to undergrad and graduate schools, I had good experiences but I never had teachers like I had at that community college.”
Hayden said she doesn’t reveal her personal beliefs to her students until they have finished the course, so they won’t be distracted by it.
“For my students’ sake, I teach religion academically,” Hayden said. “I teach it as objective as possible.”
Hayden did say she has a tug-of-war-type feeling towards the subject.
“I have a very yin/yang, love/hate struggle with religion,” she said. “I don’t want to sugarcoat the negative things: the violence, the aggression, the intolerance, the ignorance caused by it.
“On the other hand, I also embrace religion as full of story, beauty and the human experience… music, art, all of the wonderful things in religion, too.”
Throughout the courses she teaches, Hayden uses audio and visual aids to assist with her students’ learning.
“I always describe it and explain it, but then I like to show a visual with it… because I think that stays with the students a lot more than just reading it out of the text,” Hayden said.
To enhance the classroom experience, Hayden said she has gone to different religious ceremonies and visited different sites in countries, including India, where she visited the birthplace of Krishna, a Hindu god.
“With the traveling, it’s been self-funded. It’s been me working and saving and then I go (visit these places),” Hayden said.
Hayden said she is currently planning a trip to Scotland where she will visit some of the old cathedral buildings, as well as the pagan sites.
Hayden hopes that students, religious or not, can gain an “authentic experience” in what they believe in.
“Instead of it being a faith (that they practice) because (they think) ‘Well that’s what I’ve always believed in,’” Hayden said, “the motivation is to get them to reclaim their own voice.”

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