New religious studies professor uses field experiences in the classroom

by Sarah Anderson, Contributor

Rebecca Bartel is well versed in the culture, religion and the economy of Latin America.

At just 21 years of age, Bartel traveled to Colombia to earn her master’s in political science from Los Andes University. During the eight years that followed, Bartel continued to live in Columbia, focusing on the complex war economy and its roots in religion.

As the newest addition to the religious studies department, Bartel plans to bring her vast knowledge gained from her field experiences in Colombia to her first semester at San Diego State.

“(Her research) is cutting edge,” religious studies professor Drew Thomases said. “Very few people are writing about the relationship between religion and economy in the region of the Americas.”

This semester, Bartel will be teaching Christianity and sociology of religion before moving on to Latin American religions in the spring. In her spare time between classes, Bartel will be working on an ethnographic account titled, “Card Carrying Christians,” which details her experiences in Columbia.

Her ethnography follows the stories of four different female prosperity Christians, as it explains the parallels between morality and credit, all while emphasizing how the economy of Columbia is simply just another form of faith. To prosperity Christians, the ideas of material wealth, bodily health and good credit are heavily emphasized, as having a good credit score implies high morality.

“(In Colombia) there is a blind commitment to an economic system that is so uncomfortable and religious,” Bartel said. “I want to discover what ties us to that.”

Bartel is enthusiastic about using an experience that has truly shaped her teaching, to positively impact her students. Her time in Colombia provides her with a unique perspective on religious issues, which are often embedded in politics.

“She brings an outside perspective on current events in the United States and her classes,” Thomases said.

Bartel said it’s encouraging to see her students truly passionate about their studies.

Originally from Canada, Bartel appreciates the warm and welcoming weather of Southern California. Specifically, San Diego. But more than that, she is enthusiastic about the culture of San Diego, which helps to remind her of her time in Latin America.

“It’s like having one foot in Latin America and one foot in North America,” Bartel said.