Magazine article The Christian Century

Teaching Virtues

Magazine article The Christian Century

Teaching Virtues

Article excerpt

AFTER I finished my schooling I was lucky enough to receive a postdoctoral teaching fellowship. I needed it: I had very little classroom experience and very little sense of how to navigate the job market. In my first interview at the American Academy of Religion, I replied to a question about what I planned to teach with a question about the needs of the department. My interviewer sighed. "Ms. Paulsell, we all know this is not an idle exercise." Ouch.

I never heard anything further from that school. But in a stroke of good fortune, the Lilly Fellows Program at Valparaiso University welcomed me into a cohort of five other recent graduates in the humanities and the arts, gave us mentors from the university's senior faculty, assigned us to teach classes in our respective fields, and required our participation in a weekly colloquium on religion and higher education.

The Lilly Fellows Program offered--and still offers--something unique in academic culture: something deeper and less settled than a place to develop a teaching portfolio and learn some interview skills. It was a chance to explore what it might mean to live out a vocation in church-related higher education. It was an opportunity to explore the possibility that the vocation of teacher and scholar and the vocation of Christian came from the same source.

The program grew out of a work of scholarship: Mark Schwehn's Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America. The book was an attempt to articulate a "religiously informed redescription of academic life," one that remembered the religious roots of the intellectual virtues and practices that provide the scaffolding of academic pursuits--humility, faith, friendship, and love. His arguments arose from his passionate engagement with Max Weber, Henry Adams, and others, and from the living out of his own vocation. You might agree or disagree with his readings of the modernists, but you knew that those readings came from his own experiments with the many forms that teaching, learning, and scholarship could take.

Mark argued for the cultivation of an academic culture that understood teaching to be its primary organizing principle and practice. By teaching, however, he meant more than what goes on in classrooms. He meant that all of our academic work-including research and administrative work--should attempt to reach across boundaries to communicate with others.

Spending two years with Mark and his colleagues at Valparaiso gave us postdoctoral fellows a chance to think about our vocations. We weren't sure what we thought of Mark's thoroughgoing critique of the modern research university. …

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