Reed College Scholar of Chinese Religions Named Professor of the Year
Kenneth Brashier, associate professor of religion and humanities at Reed College, was honored Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C., with the prestigious Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor of the Year award. Brashier is Reed College’s second Professor of the Year in a decade.
Listen to an interview with Brashier on Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Watch Brashier accepting the award at the CASE ceremony (streaming 8 min 32 secs video; requires the Quicktime player).
PORTLAND, OR (November 16, 2006) – The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have named Kenneth Brashier, associate professor of religion and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, as one of four national winners of the 2006 U.S. Professors of the Year Award. The award was presented November 16th at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
CASE and Carnegie honor four outstanding professors each year in the following categories: baccalaureate colleges, community colleges, master’s universities and colleges, and doctoral and research universities. Brashier has been named Professor of the Year in the baccalaureate colleges category. The top professors were selected from among 300 nominees from colleges and universities nationwide. They were cited for their influence on teaching and their extraordinary commitment to teaching undergraduate students.
Brashier is the second Reed professor to win the national award in a decade. Robert Kaplan, professor of biology, won in 1996. Nigel Nicholson, Walter Mintz Associate Professor of Classics, received the award at the state level in Oregon in 2004.
"Ken Brashier is a brilliant, immensely talented professor,” said Peter Steinberger, Dean of the Faculty at Reed College. “His pedagogy is not just terrific: it is creative, innovative, and novel. When you combine this with a passionate and nearly slavish devotion to the intellectual and educational well-being of his students, you get a virtual model of an outstanding, inspiring teacher of undergraduates.”
Brashier approached his application for the award reluctantly. In fact, his discomfort with being in the spotlight has inspired him to develop a teaching method to avoid putting students in uncomfortable situations. “I use weekly informal writing assignments addressing a particular text or question,” he explained. “Then I know a quieter student’s opinions on this particular question, and I can draw in that person without putting him or her on the spot.”
Brashier employs a variety of innovative methods to engage his classes in a topic—the study of Asian religions—that tends to be unfamiliar to American college students. For instance, to demonstrate the method diviners used to foretell the future during China’s Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BCE), Brashier sets up an outdoor gas grill and boils the meat off a cattle scapulae, breaks the bone, and inscribes it with Chinese characters (Brashier is a vegetarian). When he teaches about psychoanalytic interpretations of religion, he dresses up as Sigmund Freud and delivers his lecture in first person.
Brashier began focusing his studies on the history of China and Chinese religions while he was a student at the University of Oxford in England obtaining his third B.A. His other degrees include B.A.s in German and journalism from the University of Missouri; an M.A. from Harvard University; and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He joined the Reed faculty in 1998. His particular field of scholarship is the early Chinese ancestral cult of the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE-220 CE).
“I wanted to pursue something I could study for the rest of my life,” said Brashier, who grew up in a small town in South Dakota. “I wanted something that had a future, and I also wanted something that I still had a childlike fascination for. Chinese fit all three very easily.”
Along with the honor from CASE and Carnegie, Brashier received $5,000 at the award ceremony. “I’ve already earmarked the money for buying out the remnants of a collection of hell scrolls so I can expand my teaching website,” he said.
U.S. Professor of the Year
CASE established the Professor of the Year program in 1981; The Carnegie Foundation became a partner and major sponsor the following year. The program is the only national initiative specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.