Broad focus prepares Bahr’s new course

Teaching in a department of two or, at best, three faculty members, there was no way that Ann Marie Bahr was going to become a specialized expert.p12-Bahr,-Ann-Marie

But now as she enters a new phase in her career, the retired religion professor says she possesses “the perfect background to be a public intellectual.” That background includes 24 years at SDSU, teaching such courses as world religions, religions in American culture and geography of religion.

Bahr, who retired May 21, 2012, was known for advocating inter-faith dialogue in her teaching.

“The breadth of knowledge that I needed to have for teaching was not conducive for publishing in elite journals. The leaders in any particular subdivision are those who are focused on a subdiscipline. In a small department it would be very difficult to teach the broad array of courses and focus on a subdiscipline. Careers are built around narrow focuses. “But it wasn’t distasteful to me. I liked the broad focus…I remain very much interested in intellectual life, in universities.

“I’m not sure I can best do the role of a public intellectual by running for political office or writing. I’ve always been a stronger writer than a speaker, so writing would be more likely for me,” Bahr says from an acreage in northern Vermont.

Now in the Green Mountain State

With no family in South Dakota, she opted to move to Johnson, Vt., to be within 40 minutes of her brother.

It’s a rural area with a population of 3,000 in the township. That includes 1,000 students from Johnson State College, 1,000 in the village and 1,000 in the countryside. Among the rural residents is Bahr, who will raise goats as she did here.

She may do some adjunct work at Johnson State and hopes to continue to do adjunct work online with SDSU.

Religion and Agriculture

This spring she is teaching world religions and is revising a paper that Bahr and Honors College Dean Tim Nichols are submitting to the journal Honors and Practice. It deals with a religions and agriculture class that she developed and then taught in spring 2011.

The class was only offered once, but Bahr considers it her favorite among the dozens of classes she has taught.

“I think it is a perfect fit for SDSU. We’re located in an agricultural part of the country that is very religiously inclined with influences from the Hutterites and Native Americans, plus agriculture is a repeated theme in the Bible. It’s all very timely,” Bahr says.

In addition to those topics, the class also looked at “religious cultures and the way we use the earth,” she says.

State develops wider focus

Looking at her nearly quarter century at State, Bahr says the school “is becoming much more globally connected and aware. When I first came here 24 years ago, its focus was state and local. (Now) it’s a very much connected university.”

That connection is deeper than just logging into the Internet, she says.

“I think there has been a change at SDSU in the degree to which our students are moving into careers that take them around the world. You can be very much an Internet user and still be very local in your inspirations.

“I think SDSU is moving in a very different way than other colleges are, and I think global studies is an example of that.”

The global studies program has grown from a half-dozen majors to 80 since it was formed in August 2004. Bahr says many ended up in her world religions class even though “some were completely unaware of religion in global and personal affairs.

“That made it challenging, but it also made it rewarding because you got to see the student become more aware.”

Dave Graves

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