Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching
Religion professor Raines brings deep subjects to life
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/University Photography
|Over his 40-year teaching career at Temple, religion professor John Raines has become known for teaching students more than just facts. Drawing on his own experience, he challenges students’ assumptions and teaches them about life and compassion.
On a humid June night in 1965, religion professor John Raines sat in a jail cell in Baker County, Ga., fearing for his life.
Earlier that day, police had arrested him for driving on the wrong side of the road as he drove an epileptic African-American man to the hospital.
But Raines had not been driving on the wrong side of the road; the police knew who he was and didn’t like him.
Raines was a civil rights activist who had come to Georgia to help a friend lead a protest march at a courthouse that was refusing to register African Americans to vote.
Luckily, a generous African-American farmer came to his rescue the next day, putting his farm up as collateral for Raines’ bail.
Although he could not find out the farmer’s name, Raines will never forget him.
After a 40-year tenure at Temple, many students say the same thing of Raines. A thick file of course evaluations sing his praises, and more often than not rate him as the best professor they’ve had, according to Rebecca Alpert, chair of the department of religious studies. As one of the most sought-after and well-respected professors on campus, it’s no surprise that Raines has been honored with a Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.
The gentle-looking white-haired man with piercing blue eyes has a way of engaging students with humor and anecdotes, even when discussing difficult topics in his popular “Death and Dying” course. Even more impressively, he does it in a way that keeps students thinking long after they leave the classroom.
“His lectures are eye-opening … his students don’t just learn facts — they learn about life,” one student remarked.
“I have realized the type of person I want to be and the type of world I want to live in because of him,” said another.
Alpert said he brings a multidisciplinary approach to his teaching and uses his experiences to provoke and challenge students’ assumptions. Above all, Raines said he wants students to know that “compassion is the highest moral achievement available to us as a species.”
Also an accomplished author, Raines has written on topics such as gender justice in religion and education and social class. He developed a master’s program in comparative religion at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia and instituted an exchange program between that school and Temple. In 2004, Honors students named Raines professor of the year.
Perhaps Raines has been so influential because of his lifelong love of learning and passion for teaching. Without it, he said he would be like a fish out of water.
“If the truth be known, I would pay my students to let me teach them,” Raines said. “I love it that much.”
- By Patti Truant