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From the Colloquium, February 2015

IMG_20150203_142414518_HDRAs the snow mounts and the temperatures dip in Northwest Indiana, the Postdoctoral Fellowship Colloquium begins to heat up.  As noted in previous posts, each semester’s colloquium has a particular theme.  Last term, we concentrated on the “changing conditions of the academy, including church-related colleges and universities,” and posed the question: “how might spiritual perspectives and practices drawn from Christian faith enrich the life of scholarship, teaching, and service?”  The Spring Semester shifts to a different question: “How might practices and perspectives from Christian faith and tradition contribute to teaching and scholarship in the contemporary academy?”  To help us answer this question, we return to some favorites of past years, including Tobias Wolfe and Flannery O’Connor.  We introduce some new readings from Oliver Donovan and a selection of papers given at last June’s Postdoctoral Reunion Conference.

We began in January by reading two short stories by Tobias Wolfe, “In the Garden of the North
American Martyrs” and “Bullet in the Brain” from Our Story Begins.  These two stories provide some dark humor to help us consider whether the academy is as cruel and unfeeling as it appears in “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.”  Wolfe also prods us to wonder if the academic life truly draws individuals like the author’s main character, Andres, who cannot grasp the reality in front of him in “Bullet in the Brain.”

From Wolfe we moved to Oliver Donovan, reading “Moral Communication” from Self, World, and Time: Ethics as Theology, volume 1, and “Possessing Wisdom,” from The World in Small Boats: Sermons from Oxford.  Here, we looked closely at what we do as teachers, the power we hold (or not) in the classroom, how we relate to our students and what if any role the university plays in shaping the morality and virtues of our students.  A light subject for a chilly Monday afternoon, for sure.

Next we tackled Flannery O’Connor and “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” from Mystery and Manners and “The Enduring Chill” from The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.  (This latter text seemed appropriate considering we faced blizzard conditions in Valparaiso.)  Our conversations this week turned to the nature and authenticity of individual talents.  Of course, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” did produce a temporary tangential discussion of grading papers and the uneven “gifts” of student-writers.

Our most recent colloquium was a special treat: Andrew White, Associate Professor of Theatre at Valparaiso University, led our discussion of a selection of short plays by Samuel Beckett.  Professor White is currently directing An Evening of Short Plays by Beckett.   Having read a selection from The Collected Shorter Plays, we will attend a performance.

Valparaiso University and the Postdoctoral colloquium will shortly have its spring break and our Monday afternoon meetings will suspend until the middle of March.  When we gather next, we will take up a few of the papers from the Postdoctoral Fellows Reunion Conference.  We will discuss spirited inquiry, the state of Humanities, and the current condition of contingent faculty and alternative academic careers all through the lens of Mark Schwehn’s Exiles from Eden. All the papers were written and presented by former Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows last June.  After that, we will read and discuss the reflections of the current fellows as we conclude the 2014-2015.

The Spring Semester and the Postdoctoral Colloquium has gotten off to a good start. As usual, as we seek to answer the question: “How might practices and perspectives from Christian faith and tradition contribute to teaching and scholarship in the contemporary academy?” we end up raising more questions.  Of course, that is the point.  Until next time, happy reading!

Posted by Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

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