Skip to content

From the Colloquium, November, 2014

Since 2006, the Lilly Fellows Program Director has published a “From the Colloquium” column about four times per year. The idea behind this column is to share some of the common readings from the colloquia of the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows Program and the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program.

Common readings and group discussion have been integral to the Lilly Fellows Program’s (LFP) fellowship programs from their start over twenty years ago.  First with the Lilly Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship program at Valparaiso University starting in 1992 and then with the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program in 2008, Fellows have encountered readings intended to engage Christian thought and practice as they intersect the tasks of teaching and scholarship that make up the work we do in the academy. The readings address these issues on both the personal and institutional level, examining our individual practices as scholars as well as those of our academic institutions (with, of course, a special emphasis on those institutions of higher learning that connect to a church-related mission).  Click here and here for a partial list of readings over the years; you can click here for recent “From the Colloquium” columns in this blog.

In the fall of 2014, the weekly colloquium of the residential Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows is addressing the question, “Given the changing conditions of the academy, including church-related colleges and universities, how might spiritual perspectives and practices drawn from Christian faith enrich the life of scholarship, teaching, and service?”  The idea behind this question is to think about the ways we have been shaped by educational institutions in both personal and professional ways.  Stepping back, we want to examine this formation through he lenses of both secular and sacred writing on what it means to flourish—as people and professionals (or whether we should even make that distinction).

To start this line of inquiry, the colloquium began, as it has over the past several years, with a discussion of Robert Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” which poses core questions about what does or ought to motivate our labor and sense of vocation—is it justice? pleasure? need? From there, the colloquium has considered texts that address how these ideas find expression in our work and, especially, in our institutions.  We examined sections of Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is and Should Be, which offers, from a non-religious point of view, reflections on the value and meaning of the liberal arts, much of which is based on the borrowed capital of the earlier Christian missions of American institutions of higher education.  From Delbanco we explored Evangelical, Calvinist, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran approaches to higher education.  For the first three perspectives we discussed The Future of Christian Learning: An Evangelical and Catholic Dialogue with Mark Noll and James Turner, edited by Thomas A. (Tal) Howard (Lilly Fellow ’97-’99); for the Lutheran point of view we read Mark Schwehn’s “Lutheranism and the Future of the University” along with essays by Mel Piehl and Michael Beaty in the special issue of The Cresset that focused on Schwehn’s Exiles from Eden.

While these readings examined this question from an institutional perspective, in the second half of the semester we focused on how we as individual scholars are formed by and encounter these ideals and practices.  Many of the works examine concepts such as hospitality, grace, sacrament, attention, leisure, and transcendence.  As in most years, we read Simone Weil’s “The Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” in Waiting for God, and Stephanie Paulsell’s (Lilly Fellow ’93-’95) “Writing as a Spiritual Discipline” in The Scope of our Art, L. Gregory Jones and Paulsell, eds.  Current Lilly Fellow Katherine Kennedy Steiner led us in a discussion of the writing and music of Hildegard of Bingen (in particular her Ordo Virtutum), along with an essay on Hildegard by Margot Fassler, “Composer and Dramatist: ‘Melodious Singing and the Freshness of Remorse’” in Barbara Newman, ed., Voice of the Living Light:  Hildegard of Bingen and Her World.  We then read selections from Kathleen Norris’ Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace, followed by Marilynne Robinson’s, “Psalm Eight,” in The Death of Adam.  We will round out the semester with Joseph Pieper’s Leisure:  The Basis of Culture, and the film, Babette’s Feast.  We recommend all these works to you for your own reading or for group discussion on these topics.

By Joe Creech

Books, Vocation, & Education – Pedagogical Wisdom from Caryn Riswold at Patheos

A new post by Caryn Riswold on her blog, Feminismxianity, talks about the importance of introducing books to our students in a thoughtful and purposeful way.  Caryn’s post reviews several books that she has recently encountered that discuss higher education.  She also makes note of a recent call for nominations for the biennial LFP Book Award.  Go check out what wonderful things Caryn has to say.

Post by Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

Call for Nominations – The Biennial LFP Book Award

The biennial Lilly Fellows Program Book Award honors an original and imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.

Works considered for this year’s award address the historical or contemporary relation of Christian intellectual life and scholarship to the practice of teaching as a Christian vocation or to the past, present, and future of higher education.  Authors and editors cannot nominate their own works.  Single authored books or edited collections in any discipline published in 2011 to 2014 are eligible.

A Prize of $3000 will be awarded at the Lilly Fellows Program National Conference at Belmont University, October 9-11, 2015.

For more information about the LFP Book Award, including past winners, see our website.

The deadline for nominations is March 1, 2015.  

Post by Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

A Rally Cry for the Humanities (But Only If You Are Christian)?

I recently read Christopher Noble’s article “Sanctuary for the Humanities,” in the Chronicle Review on the place of the humanities in religious colleges and universities.  Noble’s argument is that the humanities, in the face of the portents of their impending doom will survive, but most likely in religious colleges that no one has ever heard of.  Noble weighs in on the ongoing discussion of the role of the humanities, if it should have one at all in higher education, and collapses it with the discussion religious colleges’ place and accreditation (see Peter Conn’s article).

Noble is mostly addressing William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life and his questions:

Will religious colleges play an important role in revitalizing the humanities? Is it plausible that Dante’s Inferno could be taught by religious faculty in the middle of the Sierra Nevada woods with anything approaching the effectiveness of scholars in a Harvard lecture hall?

Noble works at the High Sierra Program of Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian institution.  He is definitely one defending his position in the world and provides a wonderful account of how the humanities are not in decline in his institution and others like it, but flourishing.  He even goes so far as to say his students can give those in the Ivy League a run for their money (with some qualifying statements about test scores).  He has a good point. The small religiously affiliated schools often have a theological framework up which to hang their humanities and general education core.   Mark Bauerlein supports Noble’s position at the First Things blog, that humanities professors at secular university have only themselves to blame for the declining interest in the humanities.  According to Bauerlein:

If there is a connection between religious observance and humanities curriculum, then humanities professors who bemoan their lot have to face an irony in their plight. For, they are aggressively secular, hostile to any expression of faith outside church and home.

And in the climate where we are actually concerned about student debt, Noble asserts that

My analysis may appear crass and cynical, but it is nothing of the kind. As a Christian intellectual, I believe that the humanities training I give my students is worth $30,000 of debt—as long as my students also hail from (and are hailed by) a religious tradition of some kind. For Christian students, such debt is merely a temporal down payment on an eternal project of soul-craft.

Noble is correct – Christian students do find a humanities sanctuary in Christian schools.  However, there are students who find a humanities-enriched education in religiously affiliated schools who are not Christian (the students not the schools).  Or they may be nominally something.  They are a part of the growing number of “nones” in America.  And here is where I start to pull away from Noble’s perspective about Christian schools and the humanities.  On the spectrum of higher education – from 100% secular to 100% committed persons of faith – what about the middle ground where one might have a population of faithful Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as students of no particular faith?  There are lots of schools that are affiliated with a particular religious faith, but have a diverse and largely not faithful population.  Beth McMurtrie talks about this in her recent Chronicle article “Catholic Colleges Greet an Unchurched Generation.”  Noble is correct that intentionally Christian schools do inspire young people who are searching for a way to merge their intellectual and faith lives together to attend their institutions.  Some church-related colleges also attract students who are simply searching.  Or students who don’t know they need to search but quickly find out they might.  Or they got good scholarship money.  Or it was close to (or far from) home.

What is it that students want when they choose a private, faith-based institution even if the mission statement and Christian affiliation is buried on a subpage and prospective students are wooed by flashing images of athletic buildings, attractive residential housing, and smiling faces of currently enrolled students with nary a book at hand?    Somewhere between Noble’s intentionally Christian school and the secular college or university, I find McMurtrie’s account of Catholic colleges appealing and hopeful.  (This might be what gives me the most pause with these two polar opposites – the lack of hope for the humanities.)  McMurtrie highlights a handful of mostly Jesuit Catholic schools who have found a way to “[connect] their religious mission to topics of broad interest, like developing a meaningful philosophy of life or pursuing social justice.”  While McMurtrie is not discussing the fate the humanities specifically, she does describe places where students are encountering a liberal arts education which include the humanities and that inclusion results in positive experiences for students.  McMurtrie largely looks at Marquette University’s efforts to “try to meet the needs of the unchurched generation while still fulfilling their historic mission.”  Faculty and students who cover the spectrum of faith (or no faith) have found a space to explore what I can only describe as “the big questions” about meaning and purpose all within the context of specific disciplines.  The seemingly diverse theological background of those who occupy this in-between space of exploration stands out in contrast to those at either ends of the spectrum of religious affiliation (the all-or-nothing spaces).

Returning to Noble who asks: “Will religious colleges play an important role in revitalizing the humanities?”  I must agree that this may prove to be the case.  Yet, and here I start to sound naive at worst, nostalgic at best, I hope this is not the case. I hope that the humanities continue to do more than survive in sanctuaries.

Post by Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

Hearing Augustine’s Question: A Report (of sorts) on “Teaching the Intellectual Tradition: Augustine Across the Curriculum”

Today’s guest post is from Ian Clausen, a Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow in Theology at Valparaiso University.   Ian’s current book project is The Weight of Love in St. Augustine, which explores themes of moral theology and psychology in the thought of the Bishop of Hippo, giving particular attention to Augustine’s Christian philosophy of education.

Clausen, Ian - smI recently attended a conference at Samford University, Birmingham AL, devoted to the subject of teaching St. Augustine. The conference was part of a series called “Teaching the Christian Intellectual Tradition,” accompanied with the delightfully vague subtitle, “Augustine Across the Curriculum.” By all accounts the conference was a wild success. I had the privilege of presenting a paper, one among several delivered over the weekend (Oct. 2-4), and came away confirmed in my decision to study Augustine as a figure of importance in Western intellectual history. Yet the conference was neither aimed at the Augustinian guild nor intended—at least not consciously—to indulge in hagiography. Scholars from diverse backgrounds, embracing the ethos of that much-hackneyed phrase “interdisciplinarity,” came together to explore, present, and exchange ideas on how to teach Augustine: thus assuming that Augustine has a place in the curriculum. Since I cannot speak to every paper and presentation that was given, let me confine myself to the two plenary addresses and the spirits they invoked, before offering my own reflections on what it means to “teach Augustine.”

Professor Peter Iver Kaufman (University of Richmond) delivered the first plenary paper, “Deposito Diademate: Augustine’s Emperors,” and its content certainly entertained a lively if brief discussion on the Augustinian “posture” (my word) towards worldly institutions. Against the tide of current fashions in Augustinian scholarship, though not without a sense (a welcomed sense?) of his minority interpretation, Professor Kaufman unveiled an Augustine intensely critical of prevailing power structures, and not the least bit expectant of their achieving real justice. His skepticism does not encourage a listless quietism in the face of injustice, but invites us to look for alternatives to the prevailing institutional arrangements—including, I gather, the modern university—that often perpetuate the moral poverty of the societies they inhabit. Curiously, Professor Kaufman gave “tenure” a ringing endorsement: not because it gives faculty the recognition they need or want, but because it ensures that faculty, and not bureaucrats, control the classroom! Professor Kaufman similarly argued that the Augustinian virtue of humility not only serves to call worldly systems of power into question, but also elevates alternative conceptions of the way things really change in a way that profitably expands the teacher’s moral imagination.

Similarly Professor Kristine Deede Johnson (Western Theological Seminary), delivering the second plenary address the next day, “The Justice Game: Augustine, Disordered Loves and the Temptation to Change the World,” questioned the extent to which contemporary concerns for “social justice,” another much-hackneyed phrase, can benefit from deeper exposure to Augustine’s conception of justice. If the impulse to “change the world” has its source in human effort, what to make of Augustine’s critique of human effort before grace? Surely efforts to promote justice in this world are commendable, but practical deliberation does not happen in a theoretical vacuum. It is always already inscribed within thickly layered descriptions, many of which we inherit without thinking much about them. So how do we describe/give an account of what we are doing when we do it? Such is where Augustine, with his rich and varied notion of justice, can help students to contemplate and clarify their beliefsSt. Augustine. Professor Johnson’s upcoming book on the subject of justice, The Justice Calling (co-authored by Bethany Hanke Hoang, Brazos Press: 2015), promises both to shed light on the biblical and theological grounds of justice, and to equip teachers and students to think carefully about their activism.

For both plenary presenters and the conference more generally, Augustine’s legacy still haunts the landscape of contemporary Western thought. To teach Augustine in the university is a potentially subversive act, not only because Augustine punctures the university’s sanctimonious rhetoric—he certainly does that! But also because he underwrites a different set of expectations, a different “ethic of pedagogy,” through a posture not of control but of humility and attentiveness—in a word, through love.

But as for how we teach love or embody love in the classroom, Augustine can do more than just offer us a few pointers. For love is a way of thinking as much as a way of doing, and only love can truly receive the world and teach us how to live through it. But love in response to what or who is precisely the question. Teaching Augustine exposes students a world of competing voices, all of which invite, entice, and call humanity into question. To recognize and name these voices is the work of attention, and learning how to respond to them is the charge of humility. Love, then, is inscribed within the very act of teaching: the “thing” that renders intelligible our professorial vocations. To teach love is to teach; and teaching implies an invitation. So to what are we inviting our students to perceive, acknowledge, and embrace? Augustine’s answers to that question may not be our answers, ultimately. But Augustine certainly helps us to hear the question afresh.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 262 other followers

%d bloggers like this: