Divinity School Prize for Excellence in Teaching

The Divinity School Prize for Excellence in Teaching  recognizes and encourages the superior preparation of our doctoral students for careers in teaching.  

This award is given annually on the basis of self-nomination and the evaluation of a candidate's teaching portfolio. Recipients will receive commendation in their transcripts and on the Divinity School website, as well as a generous honorarium.
(Updated PDF forthcoming)

Application deadline: May 2020 (Date TBD)

The application for the annual teaching prize consists of submitting a teaching portfolio: a dossier of documents that demonstrates the applicant's teaching experience and pedagogical reflexivity.  All Divinity School doctoral students are eligible to submit a portfolio for consideration, but preference will be given to those who have completed their Certification in the Craft of Teaching (or will have done so by the end of the academic year). 

While the contents of teaching portfolios may vary, submissions for the Divinity School Prize for Excellence in Teaching should consist at minimum of the following items:

  • Philosophy of Teaching Statement (1-2 pages): A personal statement that communicates the goals and values that animate one's teaching. This essay should evidence one's ability to think critically about, learn from, and improve one's own teaching. It should explain how you approach the classroom. What motivates you as an instructor? What strategies have you used that have been effective? How do you measure student learning? For more on teaching statements, see the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching(University of Michigan).
  • Teaching Biography: A chronological list of all teaching assignments, including a brief description of each with such details as enrollment size, type of course, teaching role, and pedagogical approach.  You may also list pedagogical training and teaching awards in this document.
  • A representative syllabus from a course you have taught, along with a 1-2 page reflection on the course design, teaching methods employed, and indication of how student learning was evaluated and how such measures are related to your pedagogical aims.
  • Teaching/course evaluation sample: 5-10 pages, noting the name and date of the course(s) in question. These should include qualitative commentary on your teaching and not only numbers. 
  • Optional items that may also be attached:

The Chicago Center for Teaching offers consultations on teaching portfolios, and the Craft of Teaching offers annual workshops for feedback on teaching portfolios.

Portfolios should be submitted as a single pdf document by the application deadline to the Program Coordinator at  . Applications will be considered and the prize awarded by the Teaching Task Force of the Divinity School.

Other Teaching Award Opportunities

Chicago Center for Teaching, Excellence in Course Design Award

Application Deadline: July 2020 (Date TBD)

With this annual award, the Chicago Center for Teaching and its Teaching Consultants program acknowledges the accomplishments of graduate students in the area of course design.  All graduate students who have taught a course of their own design in the College or at other colleges and universities are eligible.


Past Recipients

2018: Emily Crews, PhD Candidate in History of Religions

"For me, successful learning is born in an environment of collaboration, hospitality, and intimacy.  I create that environment through seminar-style classes in which all students are treated as equal members of a collective and are held to the same standard of informed and rigorous discussion.  By building my courses in this fashion, I aspire to teach my students not simply information but ways to think—not only about our course content specifically, but about the world more generally.  I aim to empower my students to take intellectual risks, embracing the idea that with the possibility of failure comes the opportunity for growth and innovation.  In teaching, I ultimately hope to convey to my students that there is something deeply important at stake in the work we do together, that the classroom is a space for revolution, and that, when done well, asking a question and attempting to answer it is a political act with profound implications for the world."

2018: Russell Johnson, PhD Candidate in Philosophy of Religions

“For me, teaching begins and ends with belonging. It starts with creating a classroom environment in which students know they belong—that their voice is heard and matters—and in which students can be honest about their questions and commitments. Through humor, open-ended questions, and class discussions, I try to help students feel comfortable having thoughtful conversations about difficult topics. Students who might have shied away from talking about religion, morality, or philosophy before taking my course should leave the course more informed, more confident, and more capable of arguing for their viewpoint.”

2018: Aaron Hollander, PhD '18, Theology

“Students are always positioned in some way towards religious matters, whether they adhere to a tradition, or do not, or (as may be most likely) have a complex and untidy relationship with aspects of their and others’ lives that they determine to be ‘religious.’ A paramount goal of my teaching, therefore, is to train students in thinking differently, and more precisely thinking with others, to recognize the internal logic of others’ perspectives and to decouple their own commitments from a sense of self-evidence.

2017: Michael LeChevallier, PhD candidate in Religious Ethics

"My work as ethicist is my work as pedagogue. I see the undergraduate classroom as a multi-faceted ethical space. I work with students to own and improve basic skills. We develop together as Religious Ethicists. In the ethical classroom, I cultivate a collaborative learning environment, a community of learners. Finally, I help students develop themselves as persons by prompting them to investigate their own moral sources and leading them to reflect on what it means to be a responsible person in our society and globalized world."

2017: Katharine Mershon, PhD candidate in Religion & Literature

"My philosophy of teaching combines three central values: 1) transparency: in order to succeed, it is important for students to understand the learning objectives of the course, as well as the purpose of each activity within it; 2) reflection: students are encouraged to take control of their own learning through engaging in dialogue with one another, the materials, and myself, challenging course concepts, and actively reflecting on their own learning processes; and 3) community: transparency and responsibility only work when students feel they are part of a safe and inclusive environment where their individual experiences are honored and respected."

2015: Mary Emily Duba, PhD candidate in Theology

"Teaching is a practice of hospitality. It is the work of making ancient texts and living questions not merely accessible to students, but inhabitable by them. As a teacher of theology and religious studies, I welcome my students into the discipline’s greatest questions—questions of ultimate concern about the holy, the human, and the storied mysteries of their mutual encounter. By design—that is, by the way I structure and lead my courses—I invite my students to see these questions as their own, as questions in which they have a stake and a voice, questions which matter for the life of the world."

2013: Rick Elgendy, PhD '14, Theology

"I teach in order to cultivate informed, thoughtful reflection on religious, particularly Christian, conviction and action.  Because religious commitments are often seen as intensely personal, or simply non-rational, or merely vestigial—even by those who hold them—most students who enter my classroom lack the ability to engage with religion critically and fruitfully.  But religion is simply too important to be analyzed only by specialists or ecclesiastics: informed, thoughtful citizenship requires from all of us some facility with the methods and traditions of religious thought."

Other Recognition of Divinity School Teaching

James Robinson, Professor of the History of Judaism, received a 2017 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring. Read more about Prof. Robinson's teaching philosophy and praxis here.



David Barr (Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Ethics) received a 2016 Karen Dinal Memorial Award in recognition of his teaching as a writing intern in the Humanities Common Core.




Lauren Osborne (Ph.D. '14, Islamic Studies) received a 2013 Karen Dinal Memorial Award in recognition of her teaching as a writing intern in the Humanities Common Core.



Kevin Hector, Assistant Professor of Theology and of the Philosophy of Religions, received a 2013 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring. Prof. Hector speaks about his teaching and mentoring in this Q and A. 


2019 Prize Recipients

Cathleen Chopra-McGowan, PhD Hebrew Bible

“In one course I designed, students engage, inquire, and consider the ways in which one tradition—the Ten Commandments—has been implicated within a broader reclaiming and contestation of a theo-political identity. Through a variety of essays, films, and biblical texts, we identify some of the assumptions that undergird the use of the Ten Commandments in varied contexts—form the supreme court’s marble façade to the installation of Decalogue monuments in public parks, to the growth of institutions like the Museum of the Bible…These discussions are necessarily multi-disciplinary and thus draw in students from a variety of backgrounds and levels of exposure to the Bible. I hope to give my students the analytical faculties they will need to lead and participate in such conversations.”


Kelli Gardner, PhD Candidate in Hebrew Bible


“By the end of a 10 or 15-week course, my ultimate goal is that I have encouraged curiosity in my students and provided them with at least some of the tools for a life of engagement with the topics and problems that matter most to them. I think an education in the Humanities can create empowered, emphathetic citizens in our world with limited resources and unlimited problems. So whether I am teaching Du Bois or Genesis, an introduction to Religious Studies or Biblical Hebrew, I want my classroom to operate with cooperation, compassion, and creativity.”


Elizabeth Sartell, PhD Candidate in Islamic Studies


“Religious identity is only one of the myriad of contingent identities each student brings to my classroom. Cognizant of the roles students’ identities and backgrounds—as well as my own—play in the classroom and in their learning, I aim to deliberately shape my classroom into a community space in which every student is both welcomed and actively invested in the learning process.”


Yonatan Shemesh, PhD Candidate in Hebrew Bible


“As a teacher, I aim to give students the space to use the course materials and learning objectives to create experiences that are meaningful for them on an individual level. So in a seminar that I teach for students who are writing theses in Religious Studies, I structure the course in a way that not only guides students through the research process but also gives them the power to situate themselves and their work within the discipline in a way that makes sense to them personally.”