Exiles from Eden

chapelinterior

The Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University

Due to a few things going on in my life right now, I have been thinking again about Mark Schwehn‘s book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America.  This book has been very influential in the way I have understood my academic life.  I return to it often.

When I read the preface of Exiles from Eden in 1999 I was hooked.  Here is Schwehn:

On a spring evening in 1982, I sat in a circle of my colleagues from the University of Chicago and from other institutions of higher learning in the Chicago area.  We were meeting together  as the Chicago Group on the History of the Social Sciences, convened by Professor George Stocking of the Anthropology Department.  We had all read a paper prepared by one of the members of the group, and roughly eight of the twelve or so of us had arrived to discuss it.  The paper, like most of those presented to the group, examined some aspect of the professionalization of the social sciences.  I remember little else about the setting that evening, except that I was was sitting directly to the right of Professor Stocking.

While we were waiting for the remainder of the expected participants  to straggle into our midst, someone (I think it was Peter Novick, but I cannot be sure) made the following proposal: “We’ve just recently filed our income tax forms; let’s move around the circle from left to right and indicate what each of us wrote under the heading ‘occupation'”  This simple exercise was thought to have potentially profound and self-revealing implications.  And so it proved.

The first person spoke up at once with a kind of brisk confidence.  “Sociologists,” he said.  And so it continued–“anthropologist,” “historian,” “psychologist,” “historian.”  At about this point (though I have sometimes been slow to catch the drift of things, I did discern this time a clear pattern emerging), I began to  wonder whether or not I had the courage to be honest in the company of so many of my senior colleagues.

Though trained as an intellectual historian, I had never once thought to put such a designation down under “occupation” on my tax form.  When I finally spoke up, I admitted (it certainly felt like an admission) that I had written “college teacher” under the relevant heading.  This disclosure was greeted with what I can only describe (thought it was doubtless a projection even then) as a combination of mild alarm and studied astonishment.  I felt as thought I had suddenly become, however briefly, an informant from another culture.exiles

The present book accordingly begins by unpacking one commonplace of academic life–the mysterious  complaint, “I don’t have enough time to do my own work“–and by engaging one of the most closely argued and most culturally influential accounts of the academic calling ever written, Max Weber “Academics as a Vocation.”  My study of Weber’s account of the academic calling led me to investigate  the larger subject of this book, the relationship between religion and higher education.  The logic of the problem of vocation impelled me in this direction, because Weber, in the course of his statement of the academic calling, self-consciously transmuted a number of terms and ideas that were religion in origin and implication.  Even so, my interest in the relationship  between religion and higher learning was and remains really more of a chronological matter than a strictly logical one.  Indeed, the title of this book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America, is, as they say, another story.

Later in 1982 I resigned my position at the University of Chicago, after eight years of teaching there, and I accepted an appointment in the honors college of Valparaiso University.  I did this for several reasons, but perhaps the main one of them was that I found that I could pursue my own sense of the academic vocation more fully and responsibly at Valparaiso than I could at Chicago.  Valparaiso is a church-related university, and Chicago is not.  Valparaiso therefore strives to keep certain questions alive, such as questions about the relationship between religious faith and the pursuit of truth, that were then and still are close to the center of my understanding of the meaning of academic life.  In brief, I sought to think through the problem of the academic vocation in part by living through it. 

This story is the stuff of legend at Valparaiso University and, more specifically, in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts housed on its campus.  Schwehn, whose 1978 Stanford dissertation on Henry Adams and William James won the Allen Nevins Prize, spent the rest of his career at Valparaiso and Exiles from Eden became the unofficial mission statement of the Lilly Fellows Program.

The questions Schwehn raised in this book are still alive and continue to shape the careers of young scholars in the humanities and the arts.  Seventeen years after my  Valparaiso sojourn (2000-2002), I continue to try to think through academic vocation “in part by living through it.”

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:

Linwood

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!

Susan VanZanten is the New Dean of Christ College at Valparaiso University

VanZantenAn excellent choice.  Congratulations Susan!

From the Christ College Facebook page:

Congratulations to Susan VanZanten Ph.D, Christ College’s next, and first female, Dean!

Professor VanZanten previously served as professor of English and interim co-chair of the languages, cultures, and linguistics department at Seattle Pacific University.

Professor VanZanten’s area of expertise is African literature, American literature, and literary criticism and she is currently a senior mentor in the Lilly Graduate Fellows program.

We extend a warm welcome to Professor VanZanten, and congratulate her on her new position, effective July 1st 2018.

Tal Howard Leaves Gordon for Endowed Chair at Valparaiso University

Tal and Agnes Howard
My old employer, Valparaiso University, keeps attracting quality historians.  Last month I learned that my friend and prolific historian Tal Howard is leaving Gordon College to become the Phyllis and Richard Dusenberg Chair of Christian Ethics and Professor of History at Valpo.  For the last decade or so Tal ran the honors program and the Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon.  His wife Agnes, a fine historian in her own right, will also be joining the faculty of Christ College, Valparaiso University’s honors college. Congrats Tal and Agnes!
Here is an article from the Gordon College student newspaper:
Tal Howard’s office in the Center for Faith and Inquiry feels similar to a sanctuary. The walls are lined with bookshelves filled with historical and influential academic volumes on ethics, Christianity and philosophy. The hours in this room spent deep in thought and in meaningful conversations seem to have saturated the walls and floor with an air of the profound.
The office will only remain Howard’s for one more year. After spending more than a decade at Gordon, he and his family plan to head west to Indiana, where he will start a new chapter of his career as a professor at Valparaiso University.
The ties that the Howards have made in Massachusetts made leaving a “difficult decision,” Howard said.
“I don’t expect the heartache to fully heal,” he said, explaining that leaving is an “excitement with a lining of sadness.”
Agnes, Howard’s wife and a history professor at Gordon, agreed. “While there are things to look forward to, it is sad to leave dear friends and community at Gordon,” she said.
Nevertheless, Howard said he’s excited for the future, adding that his new position will give him ample time for writing and research for the three books he has under contract.
At Valparaiso, Howard will serve as Professor of History and the Humanities and holder of the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics. Howard’s wife, Agnes, will be appointed as lecturer at Christ College, the four-year honors college at Valparaiso. Howard came to Gordon 15 years ago as a professor in the history department. He held that position for four years before the college received a $2 million grant, with which he developed the Center for Faith and Inquiry (CFI), which houses the offices of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum (JAF) honors program, the Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series and the Respectful Conversations scholarship and symposia.
Since then, Howard has been directing JAF’s first 11 cohorts, doing “a lot” of writing and researching, directing the CFI and continuing to serve as a member of the history department faculty.
Agnes has taught various first- year courses, most recently The Great Conversation and in the history department. She has also been involved with Gordon-in-Orvieto. “I have enormously enjoyed getting to know students here, both in my own classes and in the JAF groups,” she said.
Howard wears a lot of hats, but colleagues and students say they are consistently struck by his humility and ability to facilitate deep thinking.
Ryan Groff, Administrative Director of the CFI, first met Howard during his interview for JAF while a student.
“It wasn’t a grill session, but more a conversation on my interests and what I appreciated at the time, which was absolutely a result of Tal’s personality,” he said.
While in JAF, Groff said he was struck by Howard’s ability to ask a question and have conversations, not just explain an opinion. “His personality sets that tone for the program,” Groff said. “The table that Howard sets is inviting.” Matthew Reese ’15, JAF alumnus and current CFI Apprentice, said Howard “is one of the most reputable researchers at Gordon. … But he’s humble. For someone who doesn’t know who he is, he can be an unassuming person to be around, but he’s quite the academic giant and extraordinarily brilliant, but at the same time without losing any of his personality.”
Reese said Howard taught him how scholarly research functions.
“As someone who is thinking of going into academia, it’s really helpful to learn to be academic,” Reese said.
Howard said one lesson he’s learned during his time at Gordon was the value of interdisciplinary conversation and the importance of people in shaping those conversations. As he leaves, he wants to be remembered for his work with JAF, where he hopes students will continue to have a deep understanding of tradition, recognize that faith has many intellectual resources, and ask deeper questions about themselves and their society, while letting a love and joy of learning flourish.
Howard is looking forward to finishing up his last year with JAF, the 12th cohort (“A nice, Biblical number,” he said) and a term packed with influential lecturers for the Faith Seeking Understanding series.
In his email to JAF alumni announcing his departure, Howard wrote that “establishing JAF and working with its many wonderful students has been one of the greatest pleasures and honors of my life; through it … I have received an education.”

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.