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Posts by Joseph Goss

Christian Colleges and Bridge Building

Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, The Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Ethics and Professor of History at Valparaiso University, is a former Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow (1997-1999). Here’s a link to his timely, insightful article from 2/14/17 on “Christian Colleges in the Age of Trump.”

From the Colloquium

The Lilly Fellows Program’s Postdoctoral Fellows continue their weekly colloquium this spring with a new question: How do practices and perspectives from Christian faith and tradition already inform our teaching, and how might they shape our vocational aspirations as teacher/scholars? The discussion has moved from, in the fall, broader questions relating to the overall academic environment to more specific considerations, drawing on our own teaching experiences and aspirations.

The guiding text has been David I. Smith and Susan M. Felch’s recent book Teaching and Christian Imagination (Eerdmans, 2016). Far from a simple “how-to” book, it invites us to meditate on several images that have resonance with teaching and learning. The colloquium has considered the book’s metaphors of pilgrimage, gardening, and building, asking to what extent these are relevant and fruitful in our day-to-day (and lifelong) vocations in education. Although our teaching often relies on metaphors such as these (consider “planting seeds,” “laying a foundation,” or the very term “curriculum,” which, the authors point out, means in Latin “the act of running” or “race track”), we don’t often reflect on the full extent of their use, nor do we often realize the grounding they have in tradition and scripture. With this book, we’re gently reminded of the wide variety of useful imagery available to us as we design and deliver our courses. The book shows us that the Christian imagination and metaphorical thinking can be a rich source of wisdom for the classroom and curriculum. Imaginative teaching may be able to reach students in ways that technique and disciplinary knowledge alone cannot.

The authors do not attempt to answer every question they raise, nor do they suggest everyone ought to make use of the book in the same way. Moreover, the book’s meditative, poetic quality calls for the reader to take it slowly and not all at once. In fact, the colloquium at one point considered whether we were reading it the wrong way by reading from cover to cover, without interlude. Other reading strategies would be interesting to try, but ours nonetheless gave us some useful new tools to try out in class, and a new perspective on the classroom community. Truly, it’s a book out of the ordinary, representing a fresh, challenging, potentially fruitful approach to teaching.

Yet the integration of teaching and Christian imagination is not simple, as our discussion has revealed. Questions have been raised about the book’s metaphors: are they appropriate? Are some better than others? Does the “pilgrimage” metaphor extend to refugees and exiles? How do we overcome thinking of each other as strangers on the journey? How can we turn the educational pilgrimage into a communal adventure? If we are gardeners in the classroom, are we charged with planting, feeding, pruning, and harvesting? Who chooses the seeds? What do we do with the weeds that inevitably creep in? How can we think of an entire university as a garden, beyond the single plot that is our own classroom? Or, when it comes to the metaphor of building, what counts as a foundation? How do we involve students as apprentice builders? What happens when our edifice runs afoul of the building code? The questions have been many and deep, prompting our imaginations and offering much to think about after the discussion wraps up.

Posted by Joseph Goss

From the Colloquium

The Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts sponsors two fellowship programs: a Postdoctoral, and a Graduate Fellowship program. Both of these involve the fellows in an ongoing colloquium, for vigorous discussion and debate about issues of vocation and higher learning in a Christian context. Here is a peek into what the current Postdoctoral Fellows are engaging with right now.

The weekly gatherings of the Fall 2016 colloquium have pursued this question: “How might Christian faith and tradition help us to renew and perhaps to reconceive the purposes and practices of liberal education in today’s academic environment?” Are there resources available from these sources that might help to rejuvenate the somewhat distanced sectors of and within liberal and professional learning? Readings have focused on accounting for fragmentation within higher learning, but also on potential means for re-unifying disparate academic sectors.

With Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be, the group began considering what it might mean for higher education to proceed toward the telos of character formation in addition to disciplinary knowledge, which Delbanco argues was the way the early American college system worked—with a unity of purpose brought about by the conception that all studies had as their object some aspect of the divine mind. After the shift toward the disciplines, Delbanco suggests, such unity was lost. Thus, the colloquium opened with questions like these: Should we return in some way to the educational project of the earlier academy? If yes, how might we begin to do this, and to what pedagogy ought we to turn? What is the role of the teacher?

James Turner and Mark Noll’s conversation in The Future of Christian Learning: An Evangelical and Catholic Dialogue continued the discussion of specialization and unity. Noting certain differences between Catholic and Protestant institutions and scholars, these two esteemed historians provoked discussion of whether and how diverse Christian colleges and universities can work together to unify the curriculum and maintain their Christian character.

Brad Gregory’s influential book The Unintended Reformation prompted much discussion. In preparation for the LFP’s National Conference at Augsburg College, at which Gregory gave the first plenary address, the fellows considered the controversial claim that the Reformation itself is largely responsible for the secularization of knowledge and accompanying separation of the disciplines. If we follow Gregory, we have to ask what to do now. Facing conflicting truth claims from different sectors of the academy, what can a modern university do to help students sort through them? And where can we find a grounding for the cultivation of character?

“Writing as a Spiritual Discipline,” by Stephanie Paulsell (from Jones and Paulsell’s The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher), suggests that resources might be found in new attention to the practice of writing. Paulsell advises that writing can be spiritually transformative, if practiced as a spiritual discipline—for faculty and for students. What is needed, she says, is to cultivate the student’s desire to pay attention to words, and the desire to offer them to others. Faculty must also think of their own written work as fully integrated with their teaching.

More recently, the discussion has centered on whether and how to appropriate classical versions of practical wisdom (e.g., Aristotle’s phronesis; Aquinas’s prudentia) for use in Christian higher learning. The sort of knowledge at issue goes beyond what some think is most characteristic of the academy’s practices, and includes the practices of Christian life that demonstrate a wisdom that often is left untreated in the academy but that may provide a useful supplement or even corrective. In this context, fellows have engaged with Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues; the exciting new volume Christian Practical Wisdom, by Dorothy C. Bass, Kathleen A. Cahalan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, James R. Nieman, and Christian B. Scharen; and William Sullivan’s essay on “The Twin Elements of Learning: Knowledge and Judgment.” Many questions have arisen: Is prudence (or, practical wisdom) indeed first among the virtues? What are its prerequisites? How can these be taught? How does this relate to the formation of character? Even: Can a focus on practical wisdom be a means of re-unifying disciplines and professional fields?

Mark Schwehn’s occasional essay on “Christian Practical Wisdom, Liberal Education, and Curricular Integrity” reminded the group of the Weberian—and modern—notion that values should remain separate from university instruction. If there is to be curricular unity brought about through focus on practical wisdom—the sort of knowledge that enables one to live well—how shall we respond to the Weberian view? Moreover, what will the classroom be like after this re-orientation? In addition to raising pedagogy as an issue again, Schwehn helped the group consider what very concrete modifications might be required in things like a course syllabus, assignments, and exam questions.

Finally, the colloquium examined an interesting approach to service that might have resonance in the classroom. Sam Wells, in “Rethinking Service” (a lecture delivered at the 2012 LFP National Conference), distinguishes a “mortality model” from an “isolation model” of service, suggesting that isolation rather than mortality is the central problem of human existence. Charities, universities, and individuals ought to adopt a mode of a service emphasizing being with others rather than doing things for others (which he suggests may not help as planned). The challenge, then, is to learn the isolation model and put it to work, toward the formation of true community—inside and outside of the classroom.

Posted by Joseph Goss

Some Good News from Feminismxianity

We always like hearing about the schools in our National Network – what they are up to, what programs they are developing, etc. Just as much as we like to hear about what former postdoctoral fellows are doing.  Today, we get a bit of both in the recent post from former fellow, Caryn Riswold, over at her excellent blog, feminismxianity.  Riswold, who is also a member of our National Network Board and LFP representative for Illinois College, reviews the latest “good news about religious higher education” appearing in Religious News Service and Christianity Today.

Riswold’s post reminds readers of the important role the LFP can and does play in continuing the ecumenical dialogue that happens within our network of schools.  I am particularly drawn to her reminder that  “Church-related higher education, like Christianity itself, brings together people who don’t agree on all things.”  The LFP continues to provide a space and forum for diverse network schools to engage in conversation about their respective institutions.  One thing from my time with the LFP that I have found remarkable is that representatives from the different faith traditions come together at national conferences or in regional gatherings to share best practices.  These are diverse schools not only in matters of faith, but also in size, research and teaching orientation, and in geography. They all share concerns about faculty development and mentoring, preservation of tradition and faith, and maintaining institutions that provide a solid foundation to their students.

Go check out Riswold’s latest post.

Posted by Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

Call for Papers: The Spirit of Sports

Spirit of SportsBaylor University‘s Institute for Faith and Learning recently announced a Call for Papers for its upcoming conference, The Spirit of Sports.  This conference is a part of Baylor’s Symposium on Faith and Culture and will be held November 5 to 7, 2015.  This symposium “will explore, from the perspective of religious faith, the significance of sports in our lives, especially the ways that contemporary sports both support and compromise the cultivation of human excellence and our relationships with others and God.”

The deadline for proposals is July 31, 2015.  For more information, including how to submit proposals, see Baylor’s conference site.

Posted by Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

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