Dr. Brett Greider was an Assistant Professor at UWEC from 1998 to 2004. He was a vibrant and engaging personality — a gifted teacher, a broadly interdisciplinary scholar, and a genuinely caring human being. His primary teaching interests included Buddhism and Native American religions, and he was particularly interested in exploring the implicit connections between different religious traditions around the world.
Among Brett’s strengths was his deep familiarity with the material and artistic cultures associated with the religions he taught. He would often begin his classes by displaying an assortment of fascinating religious artifacts and practices — whether a Tibetan prayer wheel evoking the transcendental Cosmic Mind inherent in all beings; a Japanese raku tea bowl used in stylized Zen tea ceremonies to induce meditative tranquility; or a traditional Matachines dance of New Mexico, mixing Hispanic and Native American ritual elements to inspire visions of divinity. In many cases, Brett would enhance his exhibits with personal anecdotes that would cast light on the diverse forms of religious practices in people’s everyday lives.
In other respects too, Brett’s pedagogical orientation was fresh and unconventional. Unlike most scholars of religion, he did not base his lectures exclusively on the literature published by other specialists in the discipline, but made it a point to consult also the views of non-specialists. This openness to considering perspectives drawn from outside the academic mainstream influenced his teaching methods as well. For example, in his classes on Buddhism he did not shy away from utilizing digital resources on the Internet, which he believed could provide invaluable insights for scholarship, if used carefully. Among his publications justifying this was a persuasive essay titled “Academic Buddhology and the Cyber-Sangha: Researching and Teaching Buddhism on the Web” (2002). The same approach, in his view, applied equally well when presenting other religious traditions. He employed multiple Web resources to great effect in his staple introductory course on World Religions (RELS 100); and in his upper-level courses he encouraged his students to create and present short teaching modules of their own using information gleaned from the Internet. I had occasion to witness a fair number of these student presentations, and found them on the whole quite impressive. The students evidently had a great deal of pride in their work, and this carried over into their other learning experiences.
Brett was also innovative in proposing new courses for our department. I remember collaborating with him to develop a course on Chinese and Japanese Religions (RELS 323), which we each then taught several times in alternating years. He later independently created a popular interdisciplinary course on Indigenous Religions of the Americas (AIS/RELS 330). Both of these courses emphasized the importance of openness to modes of spirituality that do not readily correspond to the familiar Western monotheistic traditions. In addition, outside the classroom, Brett was instrumental in fostering a lively religious studies club, which met on a twice-monthly basis. This club offered our students a valuable informal venue to discuss the nature and significance of religious experience. It also provided them with opportunities to exchange perspectives on the broader place of religion in human culture as a whole.
After leaving UWEC, Brett moved back to California, his home state. He taught comparative religion and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and CSU Monterey Bay. There he continued as always to infuse his courses with the same passionate verve that was part of his nature. It is hard to believe that he is no longer among us! Brett died unexpectedly of a heart attack while dancing in the idyllic village of Tzununá on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. For a full obituary, see https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/brett-greider-obituary?pid=189068820, and for an online memorial website, visit http://www.lastingmemories.com/memorial/brett-eugene-greider.
— Ned Beach, Prof. Emeritus of Philosophy and Religious Studies
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire