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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

Call for Papers: 2017 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture: The Bible and the Reformation

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2017 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture

The Bible and The Reformation

Co-sponsored by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and Westminster Theological Seminary

Proposal Deadline Extended:

The deadline for proposal submissions has been extended to June 15, 2017

Quick Facts

  • Dates: Wednesday, October 25-Friday, October 27, 2017
  • Location: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
  • Deadline for Proposals: April 1, 2017

Web Site:

Conference Description and Call for Proposals

The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the European Reformation, a time of incalculable significance for the history of Christianity. This was the decisive moment at which the Bible was translated into the leading European languages. Beyond its obvious religious implications, the Reformation’s Bible must be credited as the source and origin of so many aspects of life that we too often take for granted: for a sense of individualism, for the development of language and education, for national as much as religious identity. Did the new Bible indeed, as some have claimed, grant tongues of fire to those who had been voiceless in previous societies? To borrow the famous words of author John Buchan, just what was this new thing called the Gospel, which some called “a fetter to bind the poor” and others “a club to beat the rich”? How, in short, has it created the cultures we know today, both religious and secular? Above all, we must explore the issue of memory. How has the actual experience of the original Reformation been remembered in academic and popular culture? What are its legacies in literature and cinema, academic scholarship, and fiction? Which of its great moments and characters have we ignored or underplayed? Which elements have fallen into undeserved oblivion? What remains to be rediscovered?

Join us as we explore these questions during the 2017 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture, “The Bible and The Reformation,” on October 25-27, 2017.

Proposals for individual papers, panel discussions, and responses to current books are welcome. Abstracts of no more than 750 words should be submitted by April 1, 2017 online at

Possible topics include:

  • The Reformation in Music and the Visual Arts
  • The Influence of the Radical Reformation
  • Literature and the Bible
  • Politics, the State, and the Reformation
  • Global Perspectives
  • Shifting Historiographies of the Reformation
  • Vocation in Catholic and Protestant Thought
  • The Rise of Ecumenism
  • The Bible and Language
  • Sociology, Economics, and Reformation Thought
  • The Bible and Marginalized Voices

To see videos of plenary lectures and panel sessions from previous conferences, please visit THE IFL VIMEO PAGE


Institute for Faith and Learning
One Bear Place #97270
Waco, TX 76798-7270
254-710-1725 (fax)


Register for Upcoming Conference, Georgetown College: World Without End: The New Shape of World Christianity

World Without End:

The New Shape of World Christianity

The character of Christianity is changing rapidly as its center shifts to the Global South. African and Asian Christian communities are thriving in contexts of pluralism, immigration, and political repression. New theologies are also emerging in these communities, expanding and challenging traditions. This conference explores the dynamics of change in the Body of Christ with the waning cohesion of Western and North American Christianity and the emerging need for new practices for participating in the living and growing community of Christian faith.

For Conference Web Site, Click Here

To Register, Click Here

To Ask a Question, Click Here

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

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