In the first half of the spring 2019 semester, the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows at Valparaiso University focused primarily on questions around the meaning of education: what does it mean to teach and learn, and how does the Christian tradition help us consider the purposes of education within the context of a whole human life?
In the second half of the semester, the Postdoctoral Fellows have turned to the question of vocation. They read John Williams’ novel Stoner, which tells the story of William Stoner, a young man born on a farm who is sent to the University of Missouri to study agriculture. At the University of Missouri, Stoner is taken with the study of literature, ultimately pursues a PhD, and becomes a professor of English there. The novel follows Stoner throughout his career at University of Missouri.
Stoner, as well as the Lilly Fellows’ own reflective essays, inspired thoughtful consideration of the question of vocation. Particularly in light of the shrinking availability of tenure-track opportunities in the humanities, and more generally the difficulties that colleges and universities are facing at this time, we asked what it means to have a vocation in the humanities. Could a vocation be something broader than a particular job? Instead of a vocation as “a college teacher of English,” maybe someone like Stoner’s vocation was “an interpreter of literature,” and perhaps college teaching was one avenue to pursue that vocation, but there are other avenues that fulfill that vocation as well.
We concluded the spring 2019 semester by discussing the thought-provoking poem, “I Don’t Want to Be a Spice Store,” by Christian Wiman, which explores the idea of usefulness.