Wading in Tense Waters: “Metamorphoses” Confronts Mythical Challenges

Miller_Jeffrey_2008_11_21_03_02_36Using an ambitious set that includes a real pool of water, Jeffrey S. Miller, professor of theatre arts, has directed Metamorphoses, a play by award winning playwright Mary Zimmerman that showcases a cast of ten students. Performances run April 3–5, 8–12, 2014 and tickets are available at www.gordon.edu/tickets.

The play explores the tension between the real and the transformational, the human and the mysterious, told through vignettes of classical Greek myth and drawn together by the universal need for water. Conceived by scenic designer Rick Rees, a theatre professor at Bethel University, the set also consists of Mt. Olympus and Hades while centering around the pool.

Here’s how Miller describes the play in his Director’s Note :

“We often think myth is the opposite of truth.  As many great thinkers have pointed out and as most of us know intuitively, myth is truth wrapped in story.  Since we as humans cannot consider truth as abstract concept (with our heads) at the same time we experience it fully with our senses (with our hearts), myth is a critical tool for helping us examine, understand and embrace the mystery, the fullness of our lives and choices.

Similarly we often think theatre is the opposite of reality.  But the best constructs of this performing art take us into another world where we see, feel and know better, deeper, the truth of our lives and choices.

Metamorphoses merges these two truth-bearing forms – poetically, humorously, sometimes darkly and often surprisingly. A character in our play poignantly points out, ‘Unfortunately, we give our mythic side scant attention these days.  As a result, a great deal escapes us and we no longer understand our own actions.’ This is as true today as ever.”    For a video preview of the play, click HERE.

When Nothing is Impossible: New Book Focuses on Women of the Bible

elainephillipspicture.jpg.opt376x562o0,0s376x562For those who have ever thought something was impossible, Elaine Phillips, a professor of biblical studies at Gordon, has written a new book that suggests otherwise.

With God, Nothing is Impossible is Phillips’s first book for lay audiences, a devotional based on the stories of women in the Bible, both well known and less prominent. The Gordon Bookstore will host a book signing with the author on Thursday, April 3 at 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The book will be for sale at a reduced price.

“Biblical characters, with all their wounds and scars, are living illustrations that there is a bigger and majestic tapestry,” Phillips said. “I wanted to write about their stories and the themes we see in each: how each points to God’s goodness and unfailing love.”

In addition to her new book, Phillips recently completed a commentary on Esther, which is included in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary and was edited by Tremper Longman III and David Garland. She regularly takes students to Jerusalem University College in Israel, where she serves as adjunct faculty for three-week summer study programs in historical geography. Phillips‘s other areas of interest and scholarly writing include the books of Exodus and Esther, biblical wisdom literature, and rabbinic Midrash. Her new book draws on her historic expertise and reminds readers of the fruit of faithful living. While mostly oriented for woman, it is accessible to anyone with a desire to grow in biblical faith.

One reviewer said, “Reading about each biblical woman, not just from the perspective of Scripture, but also with relevant historical and cultural context, allowed me to see each one not just as a character in a story, but as a real, flesh-and-blood individual in history.”

The Global Language(s) of Scholarship

Academia today often requires dialogue across cultures, especially in addressing global issues, old and new. These faculty from very different disciplines have been busy with such work:

Wilson_Marv_2008_11_19_02_55_441_2009_09_16_05_18_15Marv Wilson, professor of biblical studies, recently delivered the Ninth Annual Edwin M. Yamauchi lectureship at Miami University, Oxford, OH, March 7-9. His lecture combined chapters of a new book he’s written, scheduled for publication in May. Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal (Eerdmans) is a sequel, of sorts, to Our Father Abraham, but more theological.  The Department of History at Miami University sponsored the event in co-operation with other organizations within the Oxford community. In addition to his main lecture on “Abraham: Historical Figure of Continuity, Discontinuity and Eschatological Hope,” Wilson also spoke to faculty and students at four other scheduled events in Oxford during the weekend.

Melkonian-Hoover-_Ruth_2007_11_02_09_00_44Ruth Melkonian-Hoover, associate professor of political science and international affairs, addressed the Venezuelan crisis recently in her column for the Center for Public Justice. At the end of May, she’ll be attending the Christians in Political Science conference at Azusa along with Michael Jacobs, assistant professor of political science, and two Gordon students, Ian Isaac and Ilya Timchenko,who recently returned from Ukraine over spring break. Melkonian-Hoover will present a workshop entitled, Jacobs,_Michael_2013_07_12_10_06_29“Religion and Immigration Attitudes,” while Jacobs will explore, “Just Business or Just Politics: Christian Approaches to Corporate Social Responsibility.”

Perez-Serrano_Pilar_2011_12_07_09_39_50Associate professor of Spanish, Pilar Pérez Serrano, will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, in early April to present the following paper at the North East Modern Language Association conference  entitled, “Mediocridad y fantasía: jugando a ser alguien en tres obras de Juan Pablo Heras.”  This spring her new book,  “La rebelión de Los esclavos: tragedia y posibilidad en el teatro de Raúl Hernández Garrido” (Madrid: Fundamentos) will be released, and she’s recently published two two book reviews for the  Spain’s Association of Theatre Author’s journal, El Kiosco Teatral: Leer Teatro.

Seeing Christ Through the Eyes of Others

Hunt_Steve_2008_11_19_02_49_281_2009_09_16_05_12_42Understanding the narrative of John’s Gospel  just became more illuminating, thanks in part to the editorial scholarship of Steven Hunt, professor of biblical studies. Hunt helped bring to light a series of studies that explore how both major and minor characters in John teach us about Christ as the central figure.

book coverEdited by Hunt, D. Francois Tolmie and Ruben Zimmermann, Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Narrative Approaches to Seventy Figures in John (Mohr Kurier Publishers) is a ground breaking resource for pastors and lay leaders a like. Here’s how the publishers describe the resource:

“This volume represents the most thorough study of characters and characterization in the Fourth Gospel heretofore published. Building on several different narrative approaches, the contributors assembled here offer sixty-two essays related to characters and group characters in John. Among these are detailed studies presenting fresh perspectives on characters who play a major role in the Gospel (e. g., Peter, Mary Magdalene, etc.), as well as original studies of characters who have never been the focus of narrative analysis before, characters often glossed over in commentaries as insignificant (e. g., the boy with the loaves and fish, the parents of the man born blind, etc.). Clearly, characters in John stand in the shadow of the protagonist – Jesus. In this volume, however, they step fully into the light. Thus illuminated, it becomes clear how complex and nuanced many of them are.”

Memories, Words and A Psychology of Living

Does everyone in the world return to signifiant memories in their lives? Does finding just the right word in a conversation depend on a person’s context?

Two members of Gordon’s psychology department explore such questions in  their recent scholarship. Jonathan Gerber, associate professor (who’s also begun blogging on such issues), addresses the transcendent nature of nostalgia for the scholarly journal, Emotion, in an article published this spring. Bert Hodges, professor of psychology, has written “Righting language: The view from ecological psychology,” which was published this month in Language Sciences. Here’s how they described their work:

IMG_0002Gerber: “The study was a large cross-cultural study of nostalgia involving 18 countries across five continents. I collected the Australian data. The study argues that nostalgia is a pan-cultural emotion that is experienced with two major features in nearly every culture: 1.) It involves fond, social, self-relevant memories; 2.) It is more pleasant than unpleasant. Why is this important? Because it’s worth knowing that people all over the world look back to better times, that we all have enjoyed the social things in our past, and that looking back on these memories makes us more happy than it makes us sad. This should inspire us to live more connected lives now, to create the happy, social memories that we will enjoy looking back on.”

image002Hodges: “Scientific models of language have tended to focus on forms deprived of their ecological context: Speaking and listening have been viewed as disembodied and unaddressed. An ecological approach works to return language to its rightful place, as a socially embedded, morally accountable set of activities that are fundamentally dialogical. Language is viewed as a distributed set of meaning-seeking activities that are primarily physical and pragmatic, the function of which is to realize values, including caring for others and self, and the places they inhabit. Psychologically, language is focused in dialogical arrays, which can function as distributed cognitive systems for perceiving, acting, and reasoning. This more distributed, embodied view of linguistic activity draws attention to its systematic, multi-scalar complexity; to its ability to tie its participants to a place, a history, and a way of life; to the frustration and responsibility entailed in speaking and listening; and to the possibility that it is a form of direct acting and perceiving that extends human capabilities by orders of magnitude.”

Unexpected Encounters “Beyond Disabilities”

Last week, during Gordon’s Beyond Disabilities Week, students and faculty alike engaged in dialogue around a variety of issues. Those conversations spilled over into classes as well, bringing some unexpected opportunities for discovery and reflection. Ivy George, distinguished professor of sociology, writes about one such encounter that occurred in her class, “Social Change and Development in Industrializing Societies,” and offered the following letter to her fellow professors:

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Dear Colleagues,

Please indulge me for wanting to share an amazing experience I had in one of my classes during Beyond Disabilities week, one so unique, I felt compelled to write about it to you.

A student of mine wanted to bring her brother—who is a quad amputee—to class.  This young man is a graduate student in public policy in the D.C. area, and has an aide with him as he travels.  So they came.  The aide was a woman with a scarf around her head and at first, I thought she wore it because of all the snow outside.

My lecture that day was on the poststructuralist and post-colonialist theories of development, and the discussion was lively. But after class, when the other students had left, the aide came to me and introduced herself.  She was “Shabana,” a Muslim from Pakistan whose mother was from India and father from Pakistan.

Shabana hugged me tight, kissed me on both my cheeks twice and said, “You are a brilliant woman.” But then she started to weep.  She looked about my age, or maybe a little younger, and told me some of her story: divorced with two children, an 18-year old son who is married (“better to marry than to commit adultery,” she said), and a 15-year old daughter living at home with Shabana’s nearly-blind mother.  When Shabana finished, she asked to take several photos with me. She also told me that she was proud of me and kept holding my hands, not wanting to let me go.

I knew, however, that the “brilliance” she referred to is a stolen item.  

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Broadening the Conversations in Education

Nelson_Priscilla_2008_11_20_11_38_32While several Gordon professors spent this past weekend engaging in a variety of conversations with colleagues in education, both at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities national forum as well as the 33rd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience, Priscilla Nelson, associate professor of education and chair of early childhood, elementary and special education, travelled to St. Louis for the national gathering of the Association of Teacher Educators. Nelson presented on her recent scholarship efforts in a workshop entitled, “Integrating STEM into Preservice Teacher Preparation: A Partnership Model.” Here is the abstract of her talk:

“Elementary preservice teachers often lack sufficient knowledge in science. The current trend is to integrate science content, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into the primary and elementary school curriculum. When and where are teachers prepared to teach using STEM principles?  In teacher preparation programs and in school districts, it is common for science instruction to receive less attention than math and reading. This may be due to the urgency of passing state tests in other areas or budgetary concerns leading to inadequate science materials being readily available. The release of the Next Generation Science Standards and mandatory science tests in some states increases the urgency for school districts to provide STEM professional development for their teachers who already feel pressured in reading and math.  Teacher preparation programs must also update their programs to reflect the NGSS in both content knowledge and pedagogy while maintaining the rigor of preparation to teach other content areas as well.

“One college redesigned its science methods course through partnering with an elementary science program that is used in the local public schools where the preservice teachers will complete a practicum. College students were trained on campus using a published elementary science program that integrates STEM and language arts. Pre and post testing showed that preservice teachers’ knowledge base and confidence in teaching science increased. When preservice teachers taught new science topics in the public school classroom, new topics were equally embraced. Confidence remained steady and evidence of meeting language arts standards was visible. Supervising practitioners reported positive experiences.”

On Film: When “The Great Beauty” Is Not Enough

Zingarelli_007Just weeks before the Academy Awards, Jim Zingarelli, professor of art, offers his response to one of the Oscar favorites in the category of Foreign Language Films, The Great Beauty:

Art, Memory, and H. Richard Niebuhr: Seeing Paolo Sorrentino’s Film The Great Beauty

By Jim Zingarelli

E’ Cusi.   I refer to it as Italian fatalism, expressed most succinctly in a shrug of the shoulders with both palms out, full eye contact, and the expression “e’ cusi”—as in, “that’s just the way it is.”  You’re born, you grow up, fall in love, have a family, and eventually you die.  E’ cusi.  Fellini gave us La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) which was anything but: Maestroani and Ekberg embrace in the middle of the Trevi Fountain in the middle of a Roman night in the middle of a beautifully tragic temporality betrayed in the blank gazes of the marble gods.

Paolo Sorrentino now gives us La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), a film that introduces us to Jep Garmbardella (played wonderfully by Toni Servillo).  Jep is a Roman celebrity, a journalist, who parties hard among the fashionable elite of Rome. At 65, he has not written anything of note since his much-acclaimed novella “The Human Apparatus” was published some 40 years ago.  We enter Jep’s birthday bacchanal: a multitude of dancing, grinding, bedazzled bodies in various throes of ecstatic pleasure (much of it chemically induced) moving to a pulsating track driven by bass and drum. Sorrentino openly shows us the decadence but does not dwell on it. This, indeed, is Jep’s perspective. In fact, none of it possesses much sensual shock or titillation anymore: “A few days after turning 65, I realized that I can’t waste any more time doing things I don’t want to do. “

Jep’s world is cinematically framed by Sorrentino employing the spatial limitations of balconies, balustrades, and stairwells.  Even the hammock is a net that Jep must struggle to rise from.  His apartment overlooks the Coliseum, a broken down oval of ancient Roman spettacoli, riddled with holes, filthy, and another reminder of an ancient past that some Italians find historically oppressive, even a barrier for any kind of creative innovation. It has become the anti-inspiration.  Is it any wonder that at the dawn of the 20th century, Marinetti and his Futurist cohorts wanted to send all of the Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto paintings “floating down the canals of Venice” to be finally rid of the past’s ostentation in order to blaze a new world?  DeChirico’s surreal pictorial response to this was a stagnant Italy among its columns, arches, and broken statuary.  A train passes, but let’s face it: in a painting nothing really moves.  Nothing is actually heard.

”Something happens in Rome. Nothing happens in Rome,” Jep states flatly. He speaks the truth and has no qualms about confronting anyone else with it. A performance artist (whose work involves her running headlong, naked, into one of the arches supporting an ancient aqueduct) attempts to provide yet further shock tactics in her post-performance interview. She instructs Jep to write about her sexual exploits, her extreme behaviors, but he presses her with questions about artistic intention (and integrity?): “Again, what did you mean by ‘vibrations’?” he asks. She simply weeps, ”I don’t know.”

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The Pope and The Professor: Digging Into the Vatican Archives

tal
Tal Howard’s ID pass for the Vatican archives.

While some travel to the Vatican in Rome for a spiritual pilgrimage, Tal Howard, professor of history and director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry, recently spent two weeks there poring over historic documents and records. Though the Vatican only allows access to materials before 1939, Pope John Paul II made a special dispensation to open the archives of Vatican II for Howard‘s current research project. He completed a strict application process (which even required a copy of his doctoral diploma) to be able to gather primary material for his new book (tentatively titled), “The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Döllinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age.”  Howard’s book is a study of the modern papacy, and how one German scholar, Ignaz von Dollinger, dissented to the decree of papal infallibility given at the First Vatican Council in 1869 and 1870 by Pope Pius IX. 

Howard—who blogged for Patheos about his recent trip—describes his latest work in this abstract: “This project tells the story and examines the thought of the German Catholic theologian and historian Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), who fiercely opposed the doctrine of Papal Infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70).  Döllinger’s opposition to the Council, his high-profile excommunication in 1871, and the aftermath of this action offer a fascinating window into the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century, even as they touch upon abiding questions concerning the relationship between individual conscience and religious authority.  The project helps put to rest the notion of the nineteenth century as a ‘secular age,’ and it challenges modern intellectual historians to bring more nuance and insight to their examination of theological topics.”

Considering the Conflict in Conformity

image002Agreeing with others, even when they appear to be more knowledgeable on a subject, is not always easy, or predictable, according to Bert Hodges, professor of psychology, who along with  a team of scholars, conducted a series of experiments to explore the social psychology of conformity. The result is a new article, “Speaking from ignorance: Not agreeing with others we believe are correct,” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 218-234. doi: 10.1037/a0034662. 

Hodges‘s co-authors (Meagher, B. R., Norton, D. J., McBain, R., & Sroubek, A.) are all former Gordon students finishing doctoral degrees in psychology or public health (University of Connecticut, Boston University, Harvard University, and Yeshiva University). Their work takes one of the most famous experiments in social psychology, inverts it, and shows that even when people “should” conform, they often do not. Instead people appear to act in ways that are sensitive to the demands of values such as truth, social solidarity, and trust.  Here’s how Hodges described it:

“The experiments had an individual participant answer questions about words on the screen that they could not see clearly from their position, after having heard two other people who were in much better positions answer correctly. What do you do when asked to speak from a position of ignorance? Although it seems obvious that people would always agree with others who have greater knowledge, participants made up their own, incorrect answers about 30 percent of the time, sometimes choosing not to agree even when they could win money for correct answers.

Why make up wrong answers? It seems awkward, even wrong, to repeatedly answer questions based only on others’ claims. Always agreeing raises the specter of not speaking truthfully (participants cannot see the words themselves) and taking advantage of one’s peers (plagiarizing, as it were), thus threatening social solidarity. This speaking from ignorance effect (i.e., disagreeing with correct answers) was predicted by Hodges and Geyer’s (2006) theory, offered to explain social dilemmas in which there is a conflict between one’s own perception and the testimony of others.”