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From the Colloquium, November 2013

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).

This fall, the weekly colloquium of the residential Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows is addressing the question, “How have religious and academic practices shaped me as a scholar/teacher and as a human being?” To start this line of inquiry, the colloquium began with a discussion of Robert Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” which illuminates intersections of love, justice, and work generally. From there, the colloquium has considered texts that address the assumptions and practices that have shaped our professional training as scholars as well as the academic institutions that have trained us and to which we belong. In addition, along beside those texts we have examined works that interrogate those practices and assumptions from Christian or other points of view. The foundation for this conversation is, as it has been for a number of years, Max Weber’s classic “Science as Vocation.” In this 1918 lecture/1919 publication, Weber saw the same processes of rationalization (including a division of labor), secularization, and especially disenchantment at work in universities that he identified more generally in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1906) where, in Germany, universities were transitioning from an older model that privileged “character formation” to a newer one that privileged the mastery and production of knowledge. This essay, in elevating dispassionate research as the sine qua non of the academic vocation, revealed the rationale for the ethos of the modern university and specific expressions of that ethos such as academic freedom, the structure of academic departments, benchmarks for promotion and tenure, etc. The goal of the our conversation about this seminal text is to identify the historical and intellectual context of these assumptions and practices that shape who we are as academics, identifying what we see as positive or necessary but also assessing–as Weber himself did–the costs of these developments. Along this same vein, the colloquium has read portions of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas to assess the continuities from Weber to the present context. One work that stands outside and in many ways brings into relief these assumptions is the work of Paul Griffiths on the classic Christian tradition of contrasting the vice curiositas–a mastery of knowledge–to the virtue studiositas, a participation in knowledge as a steward of God’s truth.  The colloquium read Griffith’s essay, “From Curiosity to Studiousness: Catechizing the Appetite for Learning,” in Teaching and Christian Practices, edited by David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith; this essay summarizes Griffith’s more extended argument found in his book Intellectual Appetite. Coming at the question from another angle, the colloquium engaged several chapters from James Elkins’ Pictures and Tears. In this work, which has been a favorite of the Lilly Graduate Fellows, Elkins, an art historian, reflects on how his academic training has affected his ability to be moved emotionally by encounters with art, specifically, and beauty, more broadly. The discipline of art history opens up a wider conversation about the role of emotions in research and pedagogy and, perhaps more deeply, how first order thought and disciplinary formation alter our perceptions not only in aesthetics but more broadly in our approach to and engagement with our academic subjects. Finally, the colloquium considered another perennial work, Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation,” in which the protagonist is–literally–assaulted by the academy and Grace, and in the process has her inner world rearranged. “Revelation” offers a meditation on many of the things teachers and scholars wrestle with on a day-to-day basis, presents an affront to much of what we take for granted in Weber, Taylor, and Menand, and offers an opportunity (or even a pedagogical tool) for reflection on how who we are and what we do positions us vis-à-vis others.  In January, I will discuss the readings in the colloquium in November and December, which include works by Simone Weil, Stephanie Paulsell, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Christian Wiman.

Posted by Joe Creech

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