The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Valparaiso University

The Believe Me book tour rolled through my old stomping grounds on Tuesday night.  I taught at Valparaiso University from 2000-2002 as a Lilly Fellow in the Humanities and the Arts.  Here is the first house we lived in:

Valpo House

268 McIntyre Court, Valparaiso, Indiana

Then we had a sewer back-up in Spring 2001 and moved a few doors down to this house:

Valpo House 2

260 McIntyre Court, Valparaiso, Indiana

I am thankful to Joe Creech, Program Director of the Lilly Fellows Program, and Joe Goss, Assistant Program Director, for inviting me back to Valpo to speak about the book.  I had dinner with five impressive Lilly Fellows and we had a spirited discussion about public scholarship, evangelicalism, Trump, and church-related colleges and universities.  Thanks to Ashleigh Elser, Daniel Silliman, Jason Gehrke, Christine Hedlin, and Cassandra Painter for the conversation.  If you have a job opening at your college or university you need to give these young scholars a serious look.

Rather than a traditional book talk, Daniel Silliman, a historian of American religion, interviewed me.  Jared Burkholder, a historian at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, was present and blogged about the event here.

Silliman and Fea

And thanks to Ashleigh Elser for the kind introduction.

Earlier in the day, I spent an hour or so in the Linwood House, the former Valparaiso University president’s home and the building that houses the Lilly Fellows Program. A lot has changed in the house, but the living room, the place where the Lilly Fellows and their mentors gather together each week to talk about faith, higher education, and academic vocation, looks relatively the same as it did eighteen years ago:


The Linwood House

I also found a bookshelf full of books written by former Lilly Fellows.  If you look closely at the pics, you will see books by historians Mary Beth Connolly, Kathy Sprows Cummings, Lisa Deam, Darren Dochuk, Robert Elder, Andrew Finstuen, Matthew Hedstrom, Paul Harvey, Mary Henold, Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, Louis Nelson, James Kennedy, Matthew Lundin, John McGreevy, Peter Mercer-Taylor, James Skillen, and Stephanie Yuhl.

Valpo Shelf 9

Valpo Book 4

Valpo Book 5

Valpo 3

Valpo Shelf 8

Valpo 7

Valpo Book 6

It was great to see so many old friends and make some new friends in Valpo this week!

Mark Schwehn Remembers Arlin Meyer, the “Gentle Giant” of Valparaiso University

Arlin and Sharobn

Arlin and Sharon Meyer

Arlin Meyer of Valparaiso University served as the Program Director of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts from 1992-2002.  I was a postdoctoral fellow in this program from 2000-2002.  My experience as a Lilly Fellow remains a deeply transformative moment in my professional life.

Everyone has an Arlin Meyer story.  I have many–too many to mention here.  I tell them often.  In fact, I was just talking about him the other day while sitting at the dinner table with my wife and daughter.

Arlin passed away in February 2017.  Here is what I wrote on Facebook in the wake of his death:

I am saddened to learn that Arlin Meyer, longtime Valparaiso University English prof and founding Program Director of the Lilly Fellows Program in Arts and Humanities, passed away today. My kids (one has gone off to Arlin’s alma mater, Calvin College) will always remember Arlin’s candy jar in the Linwood House. I will always remember him as a beloved mentor who taught me most of what I know about the world of church-related higher education. (And recommended me to Messiah College). I will never forget sitting in my Linwood House office with Arlin on the morning of 9-11-01 listening to the radio and trying to make sense of it all. RIP. My prayers are with Sharon and his family.

I was unable to make the funeral, but I am glad that The Cresset has published Mark Schwehn‘s eulogy.

Here is a taste:

This hands-on administrative style extended well beyond his twelve years as dean of Christ College into his equally long tenure as the founding program director of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts. In addition to having to build a national network of church-related colleges and universities, which now numbers around 100, Arlin selected, supported, and mentored scores of Lilly postdoctoral teaching fellows. Five such fellows were present at the colloquium this past Monday. And the book I mentioned that we were studying together was co-authored by a woman whom Arlin had recruited to serve on the board of the Lilly Fellows Program.

Like some of the undergraduates in Christ College, the postdoctoral teaching fellows were sometimes startled or intimidated by Arlin. More than one new Lilly Fellow suddenly discovered, on the summer day they were moving into their house in Valparaiso, Arlin Meyer standing in their as-yet unfurnished living room. Astonished of course, and expecting the worst—i.e., that Arlin had come over to inform them that their fellowship had been revoked—they soon became relieved and pleased to learn that Arlin had simply dropped in unannounced to help them move into their new home. He probably carried too many couches in his life. And too many other burdens better borne by others, as well.

RIP Arlin.

Lilly Fellows Program Book Awards Announced

The LFP Book Award “honors an original or imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.  

This year’s winner is Karen Eifler and Tom Landy, Becoming Beholders; Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College.

One of the two finalists is Chris Gehrz, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons.  I was honored to write a blurb on the back over of this book. Here is what I wrote:

I have been reading Chris Gehrz’s blog “The Pietist Schoolman” for several years and have been cheering him on as he makes a compelling and humble case for the compatibility of Pietism, the intellectual life and Christian higher education.  Now Christ has gathered his academic brothers and sisters in the faith to continue the conversation.  If you thought that “pietist higher education” was an oxymoron, these essays will force you to think again.

Congratulations Chris!

The second finalist is Roger Lundin, Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief.

Chris Gerhz provides a nice wrap-up here.

I Am Keeping an Eye on Two Conferences Today

I love that Twitter allows us to follow–in a limited way (there’s nothing like actually being there!)–what is going on at conferences that we are unable to attend.  I will bel keeping an eye on two such conferences today.

First, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, scholars in the humanities from church-related schools are meeting at the 25th Annual Conference of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts (Valparaiso University).  I have been following the action at #lfp2015

Second, in Philadelphia, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (University of Pennsylvania) graduate student conference is taking place.  The title of the conference is Bustle and Stir: Movement and Exchange in Early America.  You can follow the action at #bustleandstir

If you are interested in both conferences, I will try to do some retweeting @johnfea1 Follow along!

ADDENDUM:  I just learned about another conference going on today: Public Universities, the Humanities, and Education in North Carolina.  Very interesting tweets have been coming out of this conference @unchumanities and #unchumanities

Lilly Fellows Book Award: Call for Entries

I want to call your attention to this book prize for works that reflect on the intersection of academic life and Christian faith. Our book Confessing History: Explorations on the Historian’s Vocation (co-edited with Jay Green and Eric Miller) was a finalist in 2011.
The biennial Lilly Fellows Program Book Award honors an original and imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.
Works considered for this year’s award address the historical or contemporary relation of Christian intellectual life and scholarship to the practice of teaching as a Christian vocation or to the past, present, and future of higher education.  Authors and editors cannot nominate their own works.  Single authored books or edited collections in any discipline published in 2011 to 2014 are eligible.
A Prize of $3000 will be awarded at the Lilly Fellows Program National Conference at Belmont University, October 9-11, 2015.
For more information about the LFP Book Award, including past winners, see our website (
The deadline for nominations is March 1, 2015.  

In Valparaiso for a Conference Honoring Mark Schwehn’s "Exiles from Eden"

This weekend I am back in my old stomping grounds at Valparaiso University.  I was a post-doctoral fellow here from 2000-2002 as part of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts.  I have been back to Valparaiso a couple of times since I left for Messiah College in 2002, but it has been a while since my last visit.  I know a lot of things in Valparaiso, Indiana have changed over the years, but a lot remains the same.  For example, I am in the same hotel that I stayed in during my Lilly Fellows interview.  I also rode the infamous Coach USA bus from O’Hare airport to Portage–just like I used to do twelve years ago (It is still a terrible trip). The last time I rode this bus I was on the last leg of my journey home after interviewing for my current position at Messiah College.

I am here for a Lilly Fellows Program reunion conference focused on the legacy of Mark Schwehn’s book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America (Oxford, 1994).  So many of us have been influenced by this book and a lot of us decided to devote ourselves to church-related higher education as a result of reading it.

I am off to a picnic tonight, but the real academic conference starts tomorrow.  Speakers include Dorothy Bass, Stephanie Paulsell, Caryn Riswold, Matt Lundin, Caroline Simon, Julie Straight, Tal Howard, Bob Elder, Heath White, Matt Hedstrom, Mark Schwehn, Craig Dykstra, Michel Beaty, Thomas Hibbs, Patrick Byrne, Mary Strey, Scott Huelin, Michael Cartwright, Susan VanZanten, Arlin Migliazzo, Jane Kelley Rodeheffer, and Mel Piehl.

I hope to do some blogging and Tweeting this weekend.  A Twitter hashtag has already been established: #lfpexiles  Stay tuned.

Lilly Fellows Conference Wrap-Up: Educating for Social Justice

As is usually the case, I left the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts National Conference this weekend with a lot of things to think about and a renewed commitment to my vocation as a professor in a church-related college.  This year’s conference host, the University of Scranton, did a fabulous job of showcasing what is great about Jesuit higher education.  Thanks to Gretchen Van Dyke and her staff for a great conference.

I was challenged and informed by the conference’s three plenary speakers.  They all tailored their talks to the conference theme: “Faith and Academic Freedom in Civic Virtue.”  Mark Ravizza‘s talk (you can read my tweets here) focused on his work with students in the University of Santa Clara’s CASA de la Solidaridad program in El Salvador. Ravizza encouraged the faculty and administrators in attendance to develop programs that connect students with human suffering.  He talked about the superficiality of social media and urged us to replace our “civic blindness” with a “fellow feeling” for those in need.

The second plenary address was delivered by Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University.  McGuire described a major “paradigm shift” at Trinity.  What was originally a women’s liberal arts college known by many as the “Catholic Wellesley” (Nancy Pelosi and Katherine Sebelius are alumnae), has been transformed under McGuire’s leadership into a university committed to educating women in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington D.C.  The goal was to bring the college’s Catholic commitment to social justice and civic engagement to an entirely new constituency. The Trinity student body is now mostly Baptist and African American. The college changed, but the Catholic mission remained the same.

The third plenary speaker was musician and educator Rob Kapilow. He talked about his work in bringing classical music to public audiences who do not normally listen to classical music.  He left the music faculty at Yale to become a music missionary, spreading the gospel of classical music to anyone who would listen.  His commitment to civic engagement and speaking to broad audiences reflected the Jesuit tradition of education for social justice.

Kapilow was great, but Ravizza and McGuire really got me thinking about how we teach social justice in our church-related colleges and universities.  Both educators stressed the need to get students outside of the classroom.  Ravizza’s entire talk centered around his experience in the CASA program. McGuire implied that the primary mission of a Trinity faculty member should be to engage real world problems through internships and external programming.  Even when her faculty does engage in traditional scholarship, it should be for the purpose of solving a social problem that would make the world a more just and humane place.

I can’t argue with any of this.  And as I noted above I found it all quite inspiring.  But I could not help but wonder how historians should respond to these two talks.  Do historians fulfill their missions at church-related schools by promoting study abroad trips, encounters with poverty, or teaching classes devoted to those aspects of history that have a social justice theme?  Or does the discipline of history in and of itself provide the empathy necessary to develop a “fellow feeling” for those who are different than us?  It would seem that whether you study lynching, homelessness, the beliefs of the founding fathers, American conservatism, or everyday life on 19th century Midwestern farms, the study of history–as a discipline–can teach students skills necessary for them to live a civic-minded life.  Why does the social justice or “world changing” dimension of the curriculum always have to happen outside of the classroom?  Granted, real life encounters will most likely be more transformative than intellectual encounters with the dead in a history class, but this does not mean that disciplinary concerns, such as the sharpening of historical thinking skills in a history classroom, cannot also contribute to the mission of a church-related school?  History teaches empathy, understanding people on their own terms, intellectual hospitality, and humility, to name a few of the virtues students learn by studying this subject.  I would think a history classroom, no matter the subject or the “service-learning” dimensions of the class, can instill in students a commitment to civic virtue.  Or at least this is what I argue in several chapters in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

I am sure that both Ravizza and McGuire would agree with this, but I wish they would have said more about it in their talks.

Mark Noll Wins Lilly Fellows Book Award

Mark Noll of the University of Notre Dame has won this year’s Lilly Fellows Program Book Award for Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.  Here is a description of the award:

The biennial Lilly Fellows Program Book Award honors an original and imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.
Works considered for this year’s award addressed the historical or contemporary relation of Christian intellectual life and scholarship to the practice of teaching as a Christian vocation or to the past, present, and future of higher education.  Authors and editors cannot nominate their own works.  Single authored books or edited collections in any discipline published in 2009 to 2012 are eligible. 
The finalists were:
Congratulations to Mark Noll and all the finalists.

Lilly Fellows Conference at University of Scranton

I am at the University of Scranton for the 23rd annual Lilly Fellows Program (LFP) National Conference.   I am here a bit early to fulfill my duties as a member of the LFP National Network Board, but after the business is taken care of I am looking forward to attending this year’s conference. The theme is “Faith and Academic Freedom in Civic Virtue.”  Speakers include Mark Ravissa, Patricia McGuire, and Rob Kapilow.

It will be good to touch base with a lot of old friends and making some new ones.  This conference is always a highlight of my academic year.

If time allows, I hope to write some blog posts and maybe tweet a few sessions.  Stay tuned.

Remembering Alan Bloom

Alan Bloom doing what he did best

On Thursday we lost one of the good guys.

Alan Bloom was the chair of Valparaiso University’s History Department. He was an inspiring college teacher and scholar of homelessness, a gym rat, a fellow New Jerseyan, a community member, an activist, a mentor, a husband and father, and a friend to so many of us. I am well aware that there are students and former students, colleagues, and friends who knew Alan Bloom much, much better than I did, but after learning about his death I felt compelled to write.

We developed a friendship over the course of my two years (2000-2002) in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and Arts.  I only saw Alan a few times since then, but we kept in touch via e-mail and Facebook.  Just the other day I was giving him a hard time about his efforts to avoid eating all the family Halloween candy before October 31st.

When I heard that he died my gut wrenched, my heart broke, and I felt like someone punched me in the face.  The fact that I felt this way is a testimony to Alan’s capacity for friendship.  I only got to hang out with him for two years, but it always felt like we were lifelong buddies.  I am sure Alan made a lot of people feel this way.

Alan was the first friend I made at Valparaiso outside of the folks involved with the Lilly Fellows Program. We hit it off immediately.  We were both New Jersey natives making our way in the small midwestern city of Valparaiso, Indiana.  At the start, our conversations revolved around the Jersey Shore, skeeball, and Garden State high school basketball.  A few years later, when I had an essay published in the Journal of American History, the first congratulatory e-mail I received was from Alan. “Congrats on the article,” he wrote, “always glad to see a situation where a Jersey kid makes good.”

We were both at the start of our careers.  Alan was finishing his Ph.D at Duke and I had just finished at Stony Brook.  We were both students of early America. (I am so sorry I will not get to read Alan’s book on homelessness in 19th-century Chicago).  We both loved to teach history and in this sense we shared the same calling.  We met regularly to talk about how to be more effective in the classroom.  Those long conversations were among the highlights of my two years at Valpo. Twelve years later I still think about them, asking myself “What would Bloom do?”  Alan’s students loved him and he loved them back.

Harry Danning
We also bonded over sports and sports history.  As a New York sports fan I was ecstatic when Alan asked me to help him interview Harry Danning, a major league baseball player who played for the New York Giants in the 1930s. Danning lived in Valparaiso (he died a couple of years after we interviewed him) and his family wanted us to talk to him on tape about his experiences as one of the first Jewish-Americans in the major leagues. (Alan was Jewish, so I know that the interview meant a lot to him).  It was a fun couple of hours as Danning told us story after story about life with the Giants, catching for the great Carl Hubbell, and the persecution he suffered because of his religion.  I will never forget that afternoon.

Alan and I spent a lot of time on the basketball court during those two years.  He was a pretty good point guard.  I have seen few pick-up players drive to the basket with such intensity and reckless abandon.  Most of the time he either got fouled and/or ended up on the floor, but it was fun to watch.  We used to laugh at how old we were (we were only in our mid-30s) as we got run off the court by Valpo students in one intramural game after another.  Every year Alan organized a Habitat for Humanity charity basketball game between the Valpo students and the faculty. This was only a small part of his commitment to social justice in his adopted home town.  I still have the hilarious e-mails Alan sent me in his attempt get me to come back to Valpo for the 2003 Habitat game despite the fact that I was now teaching at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. (He said he would try to hit up Mark Schwehn for some “travel funds.”)

I will never forget the last conversation we had during my two-year stint as a Lilly Fellow.  It was a hot and sunny morning on McIntyre Court and my family and I were directing the movers who were packing-up our belongings for our trip to Pennsylvania.  Alan and Colleen stopped by with a parting gift.  It was an old Budweiser beer “Contributions to Great Taste” newspaper ad that they had found at a flea market.  It

featured a picture of Thomas Jefferson sitting at a table with some other founding fathers twirling spaghetti on a spoon.  Under the picture, in bold letters, it read “Our Third President Was Our First Spaghetti Maker.” The ad went on to explain how Jefferson was responsible for introducing spaghetti to America.  It was the perfect gift.  Colleen and Alan always got a kick out of the fact that I was a working-class Italian kid from Jersey who studied colonial America. (An odd combination in academia).  A few years later I framed the ad and it now sits above the desk in my home office, a constant reminder of Alan’s (and Colleen’s) thoughtfulness.  It now means even more to me.

I never got to see Alan in action as a father, but I heard he was great.  Colleen and the boys are in my prayers.  I know the Valparaiso University community is reflecting God’s love in their care for them.

Alan, you will be missed.,  You left too early, man. Way too early.  Thanks for being my friend.  My life is richer for having known you.  Rest in peace.