Award-winning teachers find the unexpected
By Susie Allen, AB’09
Photo by Stacey Shintani
Just as one needs to develop an ear to appreciate certain kinds of music, I feel I had to be trained to be attuned to the rhythms of a classroom.”
Sunit Singh has learned to expect surprises in the classroom.
“There is always at least one gob-smacking moment in every class,” says Singh, AB’01. The PhD candidate in the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion has taught in the “Self, Culture, and Society” and “Colonizations” Core sequences.
“That is, I sure didn’t ask, ‘whether there is a philosophy of history implicit in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents that differs from that in Marx’s Capital?’ to take only one example from class, when I was 18 or 19,” he says.
Students in “Self, Culture, and Society” are expected to tackle an ambitious syllabus that includes Durkheim, Freud, and Marx. With help from a colleague, Singh hit on a way of conveying the import of these works, by emphasizing their categorial frameworks.
“A friend, who is also an instructor in the "Self, Culture, and Society" sequence, once offered me the invaluable advice to teach by arguing for the ‘plausibility’ of each book on the syllabus,” he says.
Singh, who is currently working on a dissertation about the radicalization of religious revivalism in colonial India in the early 20th century, says teaching didn’t come easily at first. “Just as one needs to develop an ear to appreciate certain kinds of music, I feel I had to be trained to be attuned to the rhythms of a classroom,” he recalls.
He found inspiration in two of the professors he had while in the College: Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History, South Asian Languages & Civilizations, and the College; and Susanne Rudolph, the William Benton Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in Political Science and the College.
“I was particularly fortunate to find exemplary teachers in Susanne Rudolph and Dipesh Chakrabarty while I was still a young college student,” he says. “And, in retrospect, it was their classes that introduced me to the field of South Asian studies, helped to shape my own views about pedagogy, and instilled in me the worth of a liberal education.”