Friday, 31 January 2014

Teaching vs. Research in the Humanities

Yesterday, in my "Pivotal Moments in Christian History" class, I talked about the differences between the Alexandrian and Antiochene "schools" of thought, and how it relates to Christology. Both agreed that God was immutable and eternal, but the two schools differed on how the Almighty could be united with a human person. Whereas the Alexandrians tended to stress the divinity of Christ, the Antiochenes typically focused on Jesus' humanity. We then discussed some of the leading thinkers that represented these schools of thought, including Apollinaris, who argued that Jesus had a physical body but did not have a human intellect (replaced by the divine Word of God), and Nestorius, who supposedly divided Jesus' nature into two beings (I explained Nestorius's view as a kind of Christological pantomime horse). Much of the debates between the two parties were political in nature, but they did lead to an important theological decision at the Council of Chalcedon (451AD), which declared that Christ had "two natures in one person."

Later in the day, I was thinking about the Alexandrian/Antiochene debates on Christ's nature and how it might relate to the role of the humanities professor. A humanities professor is supposed to teach and research, but there seems to be much discussion today on where to place the emphasis. While small, liberal arts colleges tend to favor the teaching aspect of the professorship, larger institutions encourage its faculty members to be primarily researchers.

I have been thinking about the nature of the humanities professor because I am trying to figure out how much time I should devote to teaching and research in my new role as a tenure-track, assistant professor. When I started on my journey to become a full-time academic, I was motivated by the teaching aspect of the job. I enjoy, for example, facilitating discussion on big ideas and concepts that pertain to religious history and thought. But while I was working on my PhD, I developed a deep love for research and writing. When applying for faculty jobs, I soon realized that colleges and universities have different expectations for its professors. While virtually all institutions of higher learning expect its humanities professors to be teachers, it is often one's publications that leads to a successful appointment, and, later, promotion.

So, what does it mean to be a humanities professor? And more specifically, how much emphasis should be placed on teaching and research? Should a professor concentrate more of his or her energy on teaching or research? Perhaps we need to call an ecumenical council within the humanities to decide on this matter. Within my own discipline, I look forward to the related discussion that I imagine taking place in September 2014 at the biennial Conference on Faith and History meeting at Pepperdine University, with the theme of "Christian Historians and Their Publics."

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Chattanooga: A top "Bible-Minded" City in America

Recently, the Barna Group released results from a survey it conducted on the most "Bible-minded" cities in America. Chattanooga ranked as one of the highest cities on the list (along with Knoxville). According to the Barna Group, 52% of Chattanoogans are "Bible-minded." The overall trend is not that surprising: the South ranks as the most religious region in the US, and New England as the least. Outside of Tennessee, Birmingham, AL, Jackson, MS, Charlotte, NC, and Lynchburg, VA scored high, with Providence, RI, Albany, NY, Burlington, VT, Hartford, CT, and Boston, MA as some of the least religious cities.

Over at Religion Dispatches, Brent Plate cites some problems with this survey. On a more practical level, I have been thinking about what it means to teach in one of America's most religious cities. I think that my colleagues in the philosophy and religion department at UTC would not be surprised that Chattanooga ranks high as a community of professed Christians. But I doubt that my colleagues would praise the religious knowledge of Chattanoogans.

It would be interesting to expand the Barna survey on cities in the South to determine what residents actually know about the Bible, and Christian theology more generally. I would especially be interested in finding out how the Midwest (where I grew up) compares on Bible knowledge with the South. Although many of the students who take my classes have been raised in Christian denominations, I am always surprised when I ask basic questions about doctrine and find myself facing two or three dozen blank stares. Basic questions about the formation of the biblical canon, the Trinity, the theology of Calvinists vs. Arminians and the like are met with puzzled faces and, often, silence. What is striking to me is that so many southerners attend church, but do not seem to know the content of the Gospels or Pauline epistles. I have met only a few people, for instance, outside the ministry who could provide a cursory exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.

The good news is that UTC students seem very interested in learning about the history of Christianity, theology, and the content of the Bible. But I wonder why southerners go to church regularly if they don't seem to show an interest in retaining the religion that is presumably preached from the pulpit. Is the prevalence of religion in the South better explained in terms of family tradition than commitment to a certain set of beliefs and actions?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Marie Griffith Scheduled to Speak at UTC

Marie Griffith, Director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor, will be speaking on "Religion, Sex, and Politics: An American History" at the Camp House in Chattanooga on Tuesday, February 18 at 7:30pm as part of UTC's LeRoy Martin Distinguished Lecture Series.

UTC has been blessed to host a number of incredible scholars for our lecture series the past few years:

  • David Bebbington: "The King James Bible in Britain from the Late 18th Century" on 11/7/2011
  • Bruce Gordon: "Scripture and Church: Calvin, Servetus and Castellio" on 1/19/2012
  • Gerald McDermott: "Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening, and the Future of Global Christianity" on 2/14/2012
  • Thomas Kidd: "Patrick Henry, the Great Awakening, and the Rise of Religious Liberty in Revolutionary Virginia" on 2/15/2012
  • Catherine Brekus: "Sarah Osborn's World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America" on 2/16/2012
  • Grant Wacker: "Billy Graham and the Shaping of Modern America" on 3/1/2012
  • D. G. Hart: "What Makes the Religious Right Different from Political Islam?" on 9/27/2012
  • John Fea: "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" on 10/9/2012
  • Amanda Porterfield: "Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation" on 11/8/2012

  • Philip Jenkins: "The Coming of Global Christianity" on 2/20/2013
  • Edward Blum: "Satan Was the First Secessionist: Devil Talk and the American Civil War" on 9/19/2013
  • Oliver Crisp: "Was Jonathan Edwards Theological Orthodox?" on 10/29/2013
If you are in the Chattanooga area on February 18, come out and enjoy a free drink (beer, coffee, or soda) and hear a stimulating talk by one of the leading religious historians in the country.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism

British scholars David Ceri Jones and Andrew Atherstone are editing a new series entitled, "Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism," with an impressive advisory board: David Bebbington, Tim Larsen, Mark Noll, and John Wolffe.

The editors write:

Our vision for the series is that it will quickly become the natural home for monographs and other works on every aspect of the history and theology of the global evangelical movement from its beginnings in the 1730s until the present day. The first two volumes which will launch the series are already commissioned. There will be an Ashgate Research Companion on the History of Evangelicalism, containing over twenty chapters covering most aspects of the evangelical movement, summarising existing research, and flagging up those areas where the light of serious historical research has yet to shine. It will hopefully be a book that summarises the current state of the discipline.
A first monograph has also been accepted for publication. More details of that book will follow in due course.
So if you have a recently completely doctoral thesis, or a completed manuscript of a work on any aspect of the history or theology of the global evangelical movement then please get in touch.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Piece of History

I was excited to receive by post today, my first edition copy of Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections, published at Boston in 1746. I can see that this particular copy was originally bound in calfskin, but at some point, the front and back covers were overlaid with a cheaper form of sheepskin. It is cool to think that the copy that I now own was most likely bound in Samuel Kneeland's shop, and might have been purchased by one of Edwards's friends in his New England network.

Religious Affections is one of Edwards's most important books, and, significantly, published first in America (as opposed to London). By 1746, Edwards had already established an international reputation by authoring such works as A Divine and Supernatural Light (printed by Kneeland and Green at Boston in 1734), A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (first published by John Oswald at London in 1737), a volume of sermons printed by Kneeland and Green at Boston in 1738, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Boston: Kneeland and Green, 1741), The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (Boston: Kneeland and Green, 1742), and Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (Boston: Kneeland and Green, 1742). Although Kneeland was involved in producing a number of Edwards's writings, Religious Affections is the only time that I know of when the Boston printer acted as a publisher for Edwards.

There is a really interesting advertisement at the end of the volume by Kneeland in which he discloses the approximate number of subscribers and his fear that he did not produce enough copies of Religious Affections to meet the public demand. In my current book project, I explain why Kneeland's advertisement at the end of Religious Affections actually hurt the sale of this edition. You'll have to read my book when it is completed to get the full explanation of this part of the story.

Kneeland published a separate proposal for Religious Affections in a broadside that he printed at Boston in the spring of 1745. Although he doesn't provide the price in this printed proposal, I found a manuscript from one subscriber who said that he paid 28 shillings Old Tenor for his copy of Religious Affections. Even though this person probably purchased his copy at a discounted price, we can use his cost as a basis and multiple this amount by the approximate number of subscribers stated in Kneeland's advertisement to arrive at a gross sales figure of £1,820, or roughly £230 Lawful Money. This amount would not have made Kneeland rich, but he certainly could have made a tidy profit on this venture had he been able to unload his inventory.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Catherine Brekus Wins the 2013 Aldersgate Prize

Book pic (Catherine Brekus)(1)I somehow missed this announcement back in October: Catherine Brekus's book Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America is the winner of the annual Aldersgate Prize, awarded by the John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University (see the press release here). Brekus will accept the award and the $3,500 monetary prize that comes with it in April 2014, when she will give a public lecture on the book at IWU.

From the press release:

From a field of nearly 80 nominations, the selection committee chose Sarah Osborn’s World: “Brekus’s study offers a penetrating reconstruction and analysis of early American evangelicalism’s encounter with the intellectual currents of Enlightenment Europe in an elegantly written biography of a long-forgotten female religious leader.” Summing up the consensus of the committee, one member noted: “Brekus, with deep human sympathy, illuminates a world of spiritual awakening that is at once quite different from, and yet in deep continuity with, our own experiences and trials. The scholarship in Sarah Osborn’s World is meticulous, the range and depth of the research authoritative, and the result is a powerful reading experience such as is unusual in a bench-mark academic work.”

Congratulations Catherine!

Revisiting the Great Awakening

I am currently working on a chapter that chronicles the publishing of Jonathan Edwards's works during the Great Awakening. As you can imagine, there is an immense amount of literature on the Great Awakening. One of my favorite books on this subject is Frank Lambert's Inventing the "Great Awakening." Lambert responds in his own way to Jon Butler's influential article, "Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction," arguing that a series of revivals did in fact take place during the early 1740s, which succeeded in large part because they were publicized (or, as he says, "invented") by evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lambert is one of the few historians who recognizes the significance that print media had on the growth of evangelicalism in the eighteenth century. He offers helpful narratives of how works by Edwards and other revivalists were published, giving further details on specific booksellers and printers in America and Britain who became involved in the Old Light-New Light debates over the authenticity of the awakenings as a work of God. Samuel Kneeland and Timothy Green, for instance, not only printed the bulk of Edwards's works coming out of Boston, but they also provided favorable news of the revivals in their newspaper, the Boston Gazette in the 1740s. Contrast Kneeland and Green with the Boston printer Thomas Fleet, who buttressed the criticism of the Old Light ministers against the revivals by writing caustic editorials on George Whitefield and traveling itinerants in his Boston Evening-Post. Such behind-the-scenes stories in Lambert's book reminds us that scholars have not yet fully explored the Great Awakening despite the vast literature on this event.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Hooray for Seattle!

I love NFL football. One of the benefits of living in so many cities during my life is that I can root for a number of teams. Growing up in Michigan, across the border from Toledo, Ohio and having a summer home on Lake Michigan, meant that my family supported the Detroit Lions. For most of my childhood these were dark years, brightened only when Detroit drafted Barry Sanders (we used most of our energy to cheer for the Michigan Wolverines in college football). In 1994, I began college at Taylor University in the middle of Indiana. In my senior year, the Colts drafted Peyton Manning as the first overall pick in the draft, turning a mediocre team into a profitable franchise.

When I married my wife, I added the Pittsburgh Steelers to the teams that I followed. My mother-in-law grew up near Pittsburgh and to this day, is one of the most avid Steelers fans that I have ever met. Shortly after graduating from college in 1998, my wife and I moved to Southwest Florida, where we lived for five years as I worked as a financial consultant. These were exciting years for Florida football fans. Dan Marino played his last years for the Miami Dolphins (ending his career in 1999), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 with coach John Gruden.

While I enjoyed watching NFL games up to this point, my transformation into a full-blown super fan took place when I moved to Vancouver, Canada at the end of 2003 to begin graduate school at Regent College. I am convinced that the West Coast is the best place to be a NFL fan because you can watch a full lineup on Sunday, and be able to stay awake for the endings of Sunday and Monday Night Football games. On Sunday morning I would wake up, watch the pre-game commentary on the games, go to church, and come back to watch the 1:00pm, 4:00pm, and Sunday evening games. In the West Coast time zone, the Sunday and Monday night games finish around 9:00pm, rather than three hours later for those living on the East Coast. As a graduate student, I could organize my studying schedule in order to watch all the local games on Sunday and Monday. Because Vancouver is so close to Seattle, every Seahawks game was broadcast on the local stations. I couldn't help becoming a Seahawks fan. I cheered on the team as they progressed under the leadership of Matt Hasselbeck, who led them to Super Bowl XL in 2006 (sadly the Seahawks lost to the Steelers, making my wife's family happy). With the congenial West Coast time zone, I watched more football during my graduate school days than any other time in my life up to that point.

I was so committed to watching the NFL, that I purchased the Yahoo Sports package when I moved to Scotland in 2006, allowing me to watch as many games as I wanted on the internet. Although the picture was very blurry on my small laptop screen, my wife and I huddled around our computer each night of the week as we spaced out our saved games. Only the Super Bowl was televised in Scotland, and we had to wake up at 1:00am to watch it (Super Bowl XLI in 2007 was particularly fun to watch since the Colts beat the Chicago Bears). When we returned to America, my family and I lived in Indiana for two years where we continued to root for the Colts.

This is now my third year living in Tennessee and I am not yet a fan of the Titans. Perhaps if Peyton Manning had gone to Nashville instead of Denver, I might have picked up yet another team. But alas, I can't bring myself to support the Titans. My favorite team remains the Seattle Seahawks, who I am delighted to say advanced to the NFC championship after their win against the New Orleans Saints today. So, I say hooray for Seattle!