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Joseph Winters

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Alexander F. Hehmeyer Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African and African American Studies

Joseph Winters


Joseph Winters is the Alexander F. Hehmeyer Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African and African American Studies. He completed his Ph.D. at Princeton University and his bachelor’s at Harvard University. He has written dozens of articles and book chapters and has shared his work at multiple conferences and presentations. He has authored two books: Hope Draped in Black: Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress and Disturbing Profanity: Hip Hop, Black Aesthetics, and the Volatile Sacred.

Since arriving at Duke in 2015, Winters has served not only as a professor but as an adviser, director of the master’s program in religious studies, convener of the Religion and Modernity track in the Graduate Program of Religion, and a member of numerous doctoral dissertation and master’s thesis committees. As a faculty member for both the Religious Studies and African and African American Studies departments, as well as having secondary appointments in English and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, his impact on students has been far-reaching. He is known for not only mentoring students through their research but also mentoring them toward successful academic and professional careers. 


What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor for graduate students?
  1. A practice of care and attentiveness
  2. Developing a balance between something like friendship and recognition of power relationships between mentor and student.
  3. Learning to enjoy the fact that you may learn more from your students than they do from you.
What is something you have done as a mentor that you are really proud of?

Providing opportunities for students to take risks with their ideas and thoughts; and learning from them as they think, imagine, and create.

The benefits of a mentoring relationship for the mentee are obvious, but what do you, as the mentor, gain from it?

I benefit from, and I am grateful for, the energy, creativity, and thoughtfulness of students. I appreciate the opportunity to think with them and be challenged by their insights.


Excerpts from Winters’ nomination

“Always choosing to seek out and affirm the best in students’ endeavors, no matter how tentative, he encourages them to build on the strongest points of their writing while modeling how to address weaker areas and blind spots and turn them into genuine opportunities for growth.”

“Above all, Dr. Joe Winters embodies excellence in teaching, scholarship, and mentoring with utmost humility.”

“Whether co-teaching a summer class or working with his teaching assistants during a regular semester, Dr. Winters creates a collegial and equitable teaching and learning environment, where women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, international and other students who might otherwise feel excluded or intimidated in academic spaces feel safe to learn, experiment, and discover their voice as teachers and scholars.”