• Courses

  • New Testament: Gospels Rel A 211

    Historical background, narrative, and doctrines of the New Testament. Covers the life and teachings of Jesus Christ set forth in the four Gospels.

  • New Testament: Acts–Revelation Rel A 212

    Historical background, narrative, and doctrines of the New Testament. Covers the Acts of the Apostles through the Revelation of John.

  • Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel Rel A 250

    A survey course which teaches of the Savior's roles throughout eternity with emphasis on His fulfillment of Heavenly Father's covenant with His children and the blessings of the Atonement and eternal life.

  • Other Courses Taught

  • Book of Mormon I Rel A 121

    Narrative, doctrines, and precepts of the Book of Mormon. Covers 1 Nephi through Alma 29.

  • Book of Mormon II Rel A 122

    Narrative, doctrines, and precepts of the Book of Mormon. Covers Alma 30 through Moroni 10.

  • Teachings & Doctrine of the Book of Mormon Rel A 275

    A study of the teachings and doctrine of the Book of Mormon with emphasis on the Savior's ministry.

  • Teaching Philosophy

    Too many important decisions are based on thirty-second commercials or ten-second sound bites. Profound questions too often end with a single Google search. As a society, we need deeper, more well-reasoned engagement with the world. We need higher education. I see higher education as a form of apprenticeship in which students are mentored in open-dialogue and critical engagement. As students study with me, I want them to develop (1) a love for learning, (2) an understanding of the processes through which knowledge is produced, and (3) skills that will allow them to participate confidently in those processes beyond the confines of the classroom. My courses are based on interpreting the ancient texts and history of Christianity and Judaism through traditional historical and literary methods as well as post-colonial, feminist, and other contemporary approaches. Understanding the complex history of these traditions remains important since Jewish and Christian discourse continues to be employed in religious, political, and ethical contexts today. My students discover that situating these traditions in their ancient historical contexts helps to reveal our own historical situatedness and creates space to question our own cultural assumptions. This perspective on teaching ancient religion informs my course design and pedagogy, and it has contributed to my success as an educator.

    I teach both introductory and advanced courses in a way that engages students directly with primary and secondary sources in the work of critical inquiry. For instance, some scholars have argued that certain letters in the New Testament were forged—that the person who claimed to be the author did not write them. After introducing this problem in lecture, I assign my students two brief articles with opposing views and require them to write a two-page argumentative essay defending their own perspective. At the next class, students discuss their essays—how they analyzed the arguments, weighed the evidence, and reached their own conclusions. When we discuss the literary relationships among the Gospels, I explain how scholars argue that Mark was written before Matthew and Luke. Then I challenge students to support or critique each part of that argument using passages I assign from those Gospels. Through such exercises, my students begin to see themselves not only as recipients of knowledge but also as participants in the production of knowledge.

    My students also explore the contemporary relevance of our studies. In some courses this is accomplished through assignments and class projects. In my introductions to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, students participate in prepared debates on topics including those related to homosexuality, women’s rights, poverty, and violence. In other classes, relevance is woven into the design of the course. For instance, I teach my course on the history of early Christianity through the lens of identity theories. This helps students synthesize the disparate ancient materials, but it also creates space to question the identity politics at play in both ancient and modern culture wars. In my course on Jesus as a historical figure, students not only learn and practice the methods of historical Jesus scholarship, but also critically examine the questions we ask about Jesus and the functions of historical knowledge in modern Western society.

    Academic writing is central to my pedagogy. Even when I taught a large lecture course (100-student enrollment cap), I successfully integrated a regular writing component by organizing group assignments. I focus on writing because it remains the primary process through which knowledge is produced, and because it is the best way to evaluate student comprehension and the development of critical thinking and reading skills. To help students develop these essential skills, I continue to experiment with various types of writing activities: prewriting and rewriting assignments, an outline exercise that compelled students to support each of their arguments with evidence, and rubrics that guided students in writing book reviews and peer reviews.

    I improve my courses in response to students’ performance and their evaluations of my teaching—when necessary I have created my own midterm or end-of-semester evaluations with questions specific to the course. When students were unable to identify key information in lengthy or dense readings, I prepared Reading Study Guides and assessed comprehension with pop-quizzes based on the study guide questions. When I discovered that students in Birth of Christianity struggled most with understanding the diverse Christian groups from the second century, I later revised the course to include an interactive midterm exam—an activity with individual and group writing components—that helped students consolidate that information. Not only was this midterm exam one of my students’ favorite activities, but these students also showed improved comprehension in their essays on the final exam.

    I have worked hard to become a successful instructor and have been honored to receive two teaching awards at UNC. In 2011, I was one of nine selected among faculty and graduate students university-wide to receive the Student Undergraduate Teaching and Staff Award. The SUTASA is awarded once annually “on the basis of demonstrated and consistent teaching excellence, success in positively affecting a broad spectrum of students both in and outside the classroom, and creation of a dynamic learning environment.” The following year, I was one of five awarded UNC’s most prestigious teaching award, the Tanner Award. This award was established “to recognize excellence in inspirational teaching of undergraduate students, particularly first- and second-year students.”

    Students have praised my teaching and course design. They describe my enthusiasm for the subject as contagious. Students from diverse backgrounds describe my approach to teaching religion as “unbiased,” “considerate,” and “open-minded.” They say that my course requirements are demanding but they learn a lot, and that my grading is strict but fair An anonymous student from one of my most recent classes summarized her or his experience as follows: “Professor Combs, to put it lightly, taught an amazing class. In my opinion, his course was perfectly balanced in terms of in-class and out-of-class work, and his teaching style was dynamic and engaging. Professor Combs is definitely one of the best teachers I've had at Carolina, hands down.”

    In sum, I am passionate about teaching. I mentor my students in the kind of research that I aspire to do, and I help them to understand its relevance. I have experienced some success, and I continue to develop my pedagogy and improve my classes.