Teaching Stanley Hauerwas’s “Go With God”

9143b-hauerwas

Yesterday was our first day of discussion in Created and Called for Community (CCC). The students read Stanley Hauerwas‘s 2010 First Things essay “Go With God: An Open Letter to Young Christians on Their Way to College.”

After some conversation about how to read critically, I asked the students what this article was doing.  We would discuss what the article was saying eventually, but I wanted to start by identifying why Hauerwas decided to write this article.  What were the problems he was trying to address?

We concluded that Hauerwas was trying to address four major issues with this piece:

  1. Too many Christian undergraduates are losing their faith in college.
  2. Too many Christian undergraduates see college solely in terms of career preparation and the pursuit of wealth or, at the very least, a comfortable middle-class life.
  3. Too many Christians do not value intellectual work as a way of worshiping God.
  4. The Christian church is characterized by anti-intellectualism, which is why it needs Christian students to take their college studies seriously.

We identified the fact that Hauerwas wrote this essay in 2010.  Were the problems he identified in 2010 still relevant ten years later?  The overwhelming answer among my Messiah College students was “yes.” In fact, most students thought the problems Hauerwas identified were even more acute than they were a decade ago.

By this point, we were running out of time.  But we still had a few minutes to reflect on two key issues in Hauerwas’s piece.

First, we talked about what it might take to think about college as something more than the pursuit of a career.  What might it mean to understand college in terms of calling or vocation?  (We will pick-up on this theme later in the course).  Hauerwas writes:

In a world of deep injustice and violence, a people exists that thinks some can be given time to study.  We need you to take seriously the calling that is yours by virtue of going to college. You may well be thinking, “What is hethinking? I’m just beginning my freshman year. I’m not being called to be a student. None of my peers thinks he or she is called to be a student. They’re going to college because it prepares you for life. I’m going to college so I can get a better job and have a better life than I’d have if I didn’t go to college. It’s not a calling.”

But you are a Christian. This means you cannot go to college just to get a better job. These days, people talk about college as an investment because they think of education as a bank account: You deposit the knowledge and expertise you’ve earned, and when it comes time to get a job, you make a withdrawal, putting all that stuff on a résumé and making money off the investment of your four years. Christians need jobs just like anybody else, but the years you spend as an undergraduate are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.

We talked about the counter-cultural nature of Hauerwas’s view of college.  Some students did not feel comfortable with the claim that the college years were not “yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.”  Some said God gave us free will.  But others pointed out that for a Christian, the goal is to bring one’s free will more and more in conformity with the will of God.

Second, we talked about cultivating friendship in college.  Hauerwas writes:

You can’t do this on your own. You’ll need friends who major in physics and biology as well as in economics, psychology, philosophy, literature, and every other discipline. These friends can be teachers and fellow students, of course, but, for the most part, our intellectual friendships are channeled through books. C. S. Lewis has remained popular with Christian students for many good reasons, not the least of which is that he makes himself available to his readers as a trusted friend in Christ. That’s true for many other authors too. Get to know them.

Books, moreover, are often the way in which our friendships with our fellow students and teachers begin and in which these friendships become cemented. I’m not a big fan of Francis Schaeffer, but he can be a point of contact—something to agree with or argue about. The same is true for all writers who tackle big questions. Read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and John Stuart Mill, and not just because you might learn something. Read them because doing so will provide a sharpness and depth to your conversations. To a great extent, becoming an educated person means adding lots of layers to your relationships. Sure, going to the big football game or having a beer (legally) with your buddies should be fun on its own terms, but it’s also a reality ripe for analysis, discussion, and conversation. If you read Mary Douglas or Claude Levi-Strauss, you’ll have something to say about the rituals of American sports. And if you read Jane Austen or T. S. Eliot, you’ll find you see conversations with friends, particularly while sharing a meal, in new ways. And, of course, you cannot read enough Trollope. Think of books as the fine threads of a spider’s web. They link and connect.

I asked the students how they made friends during their first semester of college.  They mentioned that their friendships were built on a variety of things: sports fandom, musical tastes, common tastes in video games, membership on athletic teams, proximity to one another in the dorms, etc…  Very few students said that they were building friendships around the kinds of common intellectual pursuits Hauerwas describes above.  I challenged them to go back to their dorm rooms, find some CCC students who also read Hauerwas today, and go get some coffee and talk more about the essay. Some students seemed to be inspired by this idea.  Others thought I was crazy.

By this point it was time to go. Stay tuned. In the next several class periods we will be doing some reading on the history and mission of Messiah College.  Follow along here.

Academic Publishing: What’s the Point?

By now many of you may have read Sarah Kendzior’s piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s new Vitae website entitled “What’s the Point of Academic Publishing.”  She echoes what is these days a fairly common lament about scholarly publishing and academic careerism.  Here is a taste:

In January 2014, creative-writing professor Cathy Day published a rundown of her publications since 2011: 300 pages of a novel, 100 pages of non-fiction, seven essays, two short stories, and 200 blog posts. The blog posts, dedicated to the craft of writing, attracted the most attention, garnering over 160,000 pageviews. Day’s last post was particularly popular: It announced the end of her blog.
“Here’s the thing: this work hasn’t counted much for me as an academic,” she wrote. “Every time I post to this blog, I’m taking time away from my fiction and nonfiction, from work that ‘counts’ for me—both institutionally and personally. Even now, as I write this, I’m not working on my novel and other projects.”
Today, a creative-writing professor is expected to produce more publications than a science professor of 50 years ago. But in other ways, little has changed. Though digital platforms enable scholars to share their ideas with the public, their desire to do so is often held against them. Academics are pressured to produce an ever greater amount of work for an inherently limited audience.
In order to maintain her professional viability, Day stopped work that she and the public found meaningful—work that directly relates to her role as a teacher—in order to have time to produce work that “counts” to a small number of academics. To “count” is not to spread knowledge, as Day did, or develop new ideas, as Higgs did. To “count” is to preserve your professional viability by shoring up disciplinary norms. In most fields, it means to publish behind a paywall, removed from the public eye—and from broader influence and relevance. To “count” is to conform.
Publishing and labor are two of academia’s most contentious issues, and they are usually debated separately. But when the rate of contingency hires and publications rise together—with the assumption that the latter is a means to avoid the former—they need to be taken as a broader problem: the self-defeating mechanization of scholarship. Scholars are encouraged to sacrifice integrity and ingenuity to careerism that does not reward them with a career.
As most of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home are aware, I have been a strong advocate of historians writing for a general public.  But I also realize that not all historians are called to this kind of public work.  We need academic publishing (whether it continues to be done in traditional print form or move online is another matter).  Dissertation writers and monograph authors offer us carefully researched and detailed studies that provide the building blocks for larger synthetic works that have a better potential of reaching public audiences, influencing school textbooks, and informing public debate.


Jacoby: People Like Stanley Fish Have Abetted the Crisis of the Humanities

Russell Jacoby

Head over to The New Republic to read Russell Jacoby’s stinging criticism of Stanley Fish, “Stanley Fish Turned Careerism Into a Philosophy.”  I hope these guys don’t meet at a conference somewhere.  It could get ugly. 

On the other hand, Fish may be just fine with Jacoby’s critique–“different strokes for different folks.”

Though Jacoby never uses the term, he basically presents Fish as a narcissist–someone only concerned about careerism and self-interest.  For example, he reminds us of the reason why Fish opposes blind review of scholarly journal articles: “I am against blind submission,” Fish wrote, “because the fact that my name is attached to an article greatly increases its chances of getting accepted.”  Wow. 

Here is a taste of Jacoby’s piece:

The crisis of the humanities—at the very least, the declining interest in the humanities—cannot obviously be attributed to Fish and his like-minded colleagues, but they have certainly abetted the decline. The lax concept of “socially constructed” flattens out cultural distinctions, so that baseball, physics, serious novels, and sitcoms all appear as kindred inventions, all worthy of full-time study. Not only students, but also interested outsiders and literate citizens, might wonder what is the point of going into the humanities to study comic books. Fish has been unable to uphold the liberal arts as anything more than a vehicle to provide jobs for liberal-arts professors, who do what they do. After all, the liberal tradition has served him and his friends quite nicely. “I believe fully in the core curriculum,” he wrote in one of his Times columns on the crisis of the humanities, “as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists.” Bully for him. But if this is the best defense of the liberal arts by one of its most celebrated practitioners, who needs it?

Fish has raised careerism to a worldview. In this way, he is a man for our time. His writings incarnate the cheerful, expedient self-involvement that is part and parcel of contemporary life: everyone is out for himself. Fish has burnished this credo for the professoriate (who already knew it). He seems to believe that frank self-promotion is somehow subversive in this society. Fish also likes to see himself as the perpetual bad boy of literary criticism, provoking left and right. Fish is anything but. He is much too practical to be dangerous. He closes one of his defenses of the humanities with a little vignette of an encounter with a university lobbyist. He offers to accompany the fellow to the next legislative committee investigating the university. But the lobbyist has doubts about Fish’s conduct and asks, “Will you behave?” Fish concludes his chapter, “Some people never learn.” The self-satisfaction is palpable—as is the self-mystification. The unexciting truth is that Stanley Fish has always behaved. He has always bravely defended self-interest. With friends like him, the humanities needs no enemies.

Ouch.

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn on the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture

Lasch-Quinn

Lasch-Quinn describe her latest visit to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University Of Virginia, an institute run by James Davison Hunter.

But what makes IASC stand out so much for me, what makes it so distinctive, is its conscious guarding against much of what have been the dominant trends of modern academe as well as the larger intellectual climate of our times. To allude to just a few, these trends have included a kind of cv-oriented careerism, an unquestioned assumption that what academic life is about at its root is individual advancement and success conceived of in the narrowest possible terms of the present age, a partitioning of the pursuit of learning into separate fiefdoms with their own small-minded gatekeepers, an emphasis on quantity over quality, the abandonment of the humanistic and democratic aims of education for upscale vocational training for the privileged classes, stultifying bureaucratization and overweening administration, carelessness about style and form, forgetfulness about the public trust, the replacement of the contemplative and the search for meaning and excellence with the functional imperative and profit-seeking, posturing and back-biting in pursuit of personal status rather than collective engagement toward shared purposes, the bracketing of ethical or so-called “normative” concerns–once considered at the very heart of scholarship, teaching, and learning. 

Read the entire piece at U.S. Intellectual History blog.