Professor Castelli is one of the best professors I have encountered at Columbia University. I think I am not alone in this opinion given the number of students who have taken her more than once.
As a person and a Professor, Castelli is more interested in teaching and you learning then getting caught up the minutia of you knowing every text and detail by heart. She understands that we have a significant workload and wants to help her students succeed in the class. This does not mean she lets us off or out of work, but that throughout the semester she works with us and is flexible. She expects a lot out of her students, however none of it is unreasonable and I probably learned more efficiently in her class than any other.
I came to this class with ZERO knowledge of Christianity or religion, of the history of the period we were looking at or the cultures. In that way I was way behind my classmates, however Castelli made the subject approachable and engaging. She focused on a very palatable cross section of the period that was not overwhelming and then asked thought provoking questions that really encouraged us to bring these ideas together in a way that made sense to us.
In addition Prof. Castelli is kind and very generous with her time – eager to know her students and help them. Her classes are enjoyable. The end result is that even those texts that I did not get to read entirely during the semester I will read on my own because she sparked my interest.
I have read some less then favorable reviews of Prof. Castelli and I am somewhat baffled. Yes she has strong opinions on some topics but none of them were alienating and she really encouraged students to bring their own ideas and experiences to the table. Our class was made up of Jews and Christians of various strains. We went through some very touchy and at times difficulty materials and at no time did anyone get offended or ostracized.
I think Castelli is the sort of teacher who attracts rather than promotes and highly recommend her.
For full transparency I received an A- in this course.