Last Rites

Last night at 9:40 p.m., my last class at Rutgers University ended. I began a teaching career in higher education back in 1992 when I was still younger than most of my students (that was in a seminary). Despite the difficulties of that setting, I had lowly dreams of a reasonable teaching post in a small college where good teaching was emphasized and serious research was allowed. It was never to be. Now, facing an exciting career move, it feels like a giddy run suddenly played out. The finish line crossed halfway through the race. Higher education simply never made room for the likes of me. Students have frequently commented on how they like my courses and find me a congenial instructor and wonder why no full-time positions ever emerged. My answer has always been that Religious Studies is the one field where religious discrimination is legal and regularly practiced. Denominational schools are permitted to hire on the basis of faith—I have been declined more than one position because I was not the right brand of religion. State schools are afraid of the field.

State universities, where I ultimately ended up, are very cagey about Religious Studies. I’ve known otherwise highly educated individuals who suppose that such departments are glorified Sunday Schools or Catechisms. They always seem surprised, when a religiously motivated person decides to become a mass murderer on the basis of conviction, that universities don’t know more about religions. It is, however, a dying field. Religion in America has been hijacked by the NeoCon camp. Over the years I’ve had mainstream Christian students explain to me why they are not really “Christian” since they assume that the title goes with conservative political and social values. To my humble eyes, it appears the battle may have been already lost. State schools fear interference with the establishment clause while NeoCons plow ahead to mandate a state church. It is the religious makeover of America.

I will miss teaching, but it has been a punishing career. My years at Nashotah House were filled with abusive situations and unrealistic expectations. Since then I have never had a full-time teaching post. In some cases I have spent more time driving to campus than I spent in the classroom. It is time to launch on a new career direction—even my previous editing experience was under the shadow of a conservative religious outlook. I have told many students over the years that teaching careers are not what they used to be. I have many horror stories to back me up. That doesn’t mean that a tear or two didn’t fall as I left my last classroom after nearly twenty years in the biz. It has been an education to me, and I hope a few students among the hundreds I’ve taught out there feel that it has been the same for them.


11 thoughts on “Last Rites

  1. DJ

    The students you have touched will hopefully go on, against this grain of stupidity and pronounce truth in the face of all odds.
    I had an amazing religion prof, and am grateful for the different perspective he offered — sadly, a perspective the church I grew up in will never offer.
    God forbid if we had a clear understanding of world mythology, reason, and (gasp) common sense.


  2. Thomas Monaco

    Professor Wiggins,

    I had a fantastic time in your Ancient Near Eastern Religions class this summer. It was fascinating listening to you lecture. I’m sorry to hear your leaving Rutgers University. It sounds like we had a smiliar experience at 9:40 yesterday evening. I also shed a few tears after class. Last night marked the end of a 10 year journey for me. I’m officially finished with college. I’ve been a part-time student forever, struggeling to finish my degree while working full-time. I’m finally done. I feel very fortunate to have had such an interesting class and knowledgeable professor. Your class provided the perfect ending to my college career. I truly learned a great deal about the Ancient Near East and religion in general. Thank you so much. I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors. Keep blogging!!!


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, Thomas!

      I appreciated having you in the class. It was clear from our discussions and your attention that you were engaged in the material. I hope that it gives you something to ponder along the way. Congratulations on finishing with your coursework! I hope that great things lie ahead for you. Stay in touch.


  3. Vicki Natzke

    I am sorry to hear you will not be teaching, however, I know you have a few books in you that I hope will come to fruition. Personally, I want to read about a quirky, misdirected seminary in the quiet of a mid-western state. That could be a series!


  4. lonelygoth

    I’m just noticing this message, but I can name a student or two who probably wouldn’t have survived Nashotah (probably not at all, but definitely not without even greater psychological damage than already incurred) without you and a number of other key individuals on the faculty/staff. And I still recommend some of your class selections on Biblical archeology to friends and students who are interested…


  5. Steve Wiggins

    Thank you all for your kind words! I find that reinventing oneself can be a healthy activity, but I will never forget the vast education that I received over the nearly two decades I spent in the classroom. Thank you all for being a part of it!


  6. Irene Grandeza


    Sad to hear you won’t be teaching at Rutgers anymore. However, I did have the luck of taking all the classes you taught. Thank you for all you taught me. I learned a lot in those classes than I did in any others. Good luck in all you do! Hopefully there is something for you out there that Rutgers couldn’t give to you.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thank you, Irene. I appreciate your kind words and good wishes. I also appreciated your presence in my classes–thank you for staying in touch. You might find a little bit of the classroom experience here on the the blog.


  7. atimetorend

    Hi Steve, wishing you the best in your future endeavors! You obviously have a wide range of interests, and I hope you find/have found employment in something interesting to you.


  8. Long-time listener, first-time caller. I’ve enjoyed your blog since I first found it, and have found myself envying your students more than a few times. Best of luck in whatever comes next.


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