Miranda Bridges Clark
Throughout my childhood in East Tennessee, I encountered conflicting and confusing religious messages from fundamentalist Christian relatives on one side of my family, Unitarian Universalists on the other, and various friends and family members in between. At the University of Tennessee, I was drawn to the Department of Religious Studies as an undergraduate for the very personal reason of sorting through this mix. My courses with Rosalind Hackett, David Dungan, Lee Humphreys, Stan Lusby, John Hodges and Miriam Levering to name a few, were fascinating and eye-opening. These professors exposed me to the vast field of Religious Studies, helping to put many of the religious views from my childhood experiences into historical and social context. I learned to ask good questions, to examine the paradigms that shape various world views, to respect the particularities of cultural traditions and individual actors. I particularly enjoyed class discussions. I remember the books and essays by such scholars as Mircea Eliade and Elaine Pagels that forever changed the way that I view the world, and in 1994 I graduated with a B. A. in Religious Studies.
Curiosity, a wide variety of interests, and a love of research led to a M.S. in Information Sciences and a School Library Media Specialist endorsement from UTK in 1997. Since 1998 I have served as the lower school librarian at The Episcopal School of Knoxville. During a seven year break to stay home with my young sons I worked as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Information Sciences teaching children’s literature and serving as Director of The Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Both my professional training as an information scientist and my academic foundation in religious studies inform my work to serve the school community.
My religious studies background gives me an appreciation and respect for the historical, social and cultural context of my school’s Episcopal identity as well as a respect for the individual interpretations and manifestations of the various religious traditions represented in the school community. However, the most interesting and important aspect of my work is sharing stories with children. Whether it be mythology or fairy tales or poetry or modern fiction, I have a deep appreciation of the power of story to connect us, inform us and shape us as human beings. I feel a great sense of responsibility to select and share stories from a variety of talented creators whose voices reflect as many cultures and identities as possible. I feel uniquely positioned to show students, through high quality literature, the commonalities of the human experience, the value of all voices, and the power of language and art. I use stories to encourage my students to ask questions about the world and to examine their own thinking. I hope they come away with an appreciation of how stories, including mythologies, help us understand ourselves and one another.To have been able to connect my personal, academic, and professional interests and channel them into librarianship for children in a welcoming and open-minded community feels like an incredible stroke of luck. So, I continue to pursue my joint interests and see where they lead. Most recently they led to the northern coast of Spain, on the centuries old Christian pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, where, one step at a time, I pondered my personal journey, absorbed the culture and history lessons, and collected stories to share with my students.