Writing the Personal and the Profound

For most professors, writing and publishing in their disciplines is a regular extension of their scholarship. But when writing becomes personal—and passionate—it has a different impact on both the audience and the scholar. Recently, three Gordon professors saw such pieces published.

In the current issue of Commonweal Magazine, Agnes Howard, associate professor of English and history, explores the difficult but crucial topic of coping with miscarriage. Her article, “Comforting Rachel: How Christians Should Respond to Prenatal Death” provides an insightful guide on the profound emotions around losing a baby as well as a context for Christian communities.

Denise Frame Harlan, adjunct professor of English, takes on the many challenges of the writing life itself, from health and relational disruptions to how aging and physical space affect the very act of putting words to paper. Her essay entitled, The Swing,” appears in Ruminate Magazine.

And as a favor to an administrator, Dorothy Boorse, professor of biology, had the difficult task of watching and reviewing a DVD series that addressed her passions: evangelical faith, science and truth. It wasn’t an easy writing project, given the contentious and often tense perspectives from within the various groups. This month, BioLogos posted her essays Science and The Truth Project, part one and two” on its web site.

When Mark Twain Got Mad

So Mark Twain had a dark side after all. At least that’s what Steve Alter, professor and chair of the history department, says.

In the first of a series of occasional lectures from the history department this year, Alter will address Twain’s other side and its implications in a talk entitled, “Mark Twain’s Anger: Individualism versus Social Conformity in America, from Ben Franklin to Huck Finn,” on Monday, Sept.  30, at 4:00 p.m. in Jenks 406.  Alter hopes to put the reputation of the great American writer’s in a broader historic context. The lecture is free and open to the public. Here’s how Alter describes the talk:

“I’ll be tracing a ‘great conversation’ about the individual in relation to society, especially the problem of American individualism v. social conformity—and the related question of whether we can trust what our conscience tells us is true. Writers on these subjects include Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Alexis de Tocqueville, and—giving the most penetrating analysis—Mark Twain: whose deepest reflections, of course, occur on a raft floating down the Mississippi.”

Religion in the Classes of Cambridge, Harvard and Oxford

The modern university owes much to religion’s influence throughout history. In fact, there’s a direct connection and ongoing influence, both of which have kept Tal Howard, professor of history and director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry, busy this spring.

Earlier this month, Howard gave a keynote lecture at the conference on “Religion and the Idea of the Research University” in Cambridge, England. In early May, he’ll present at a workshop hosted by Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on a similar theme. And this July, he’ll travel to Oxford for a gathering of Templeton grantees for Templeton’s Religion and Innovation and Human Affairs grant initiative.

The initiative also made possible the upcoming conference at Gordon on November 14-16, 2013, “Protestantism? Reflections in Advance of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation,” for which the Center for Faith and Inquiry received a grant in collaboration with Dr. Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame.  Howard’s talks and work with Noll at the conference will culminate in a new book.

Chores for Kids? Absolutely, Writes History Professor in Boston Globe Magazine

Agnes Howard

Today’s parents often let their children off the hook when it comes to household chores, but Agnes Howard, assistant professor of history, writes in Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine (March 3, 2013) that when kids contribute around the house, great things can happen. Not only does the cleaning get done but they develop a sense of accomplishment that has lasting effects. Here’s the start of Howard’s article, entitled, “Why Your Children Should Do Their Chores”:

“EVERY YEAR, busloads of schoolchildren take field trips to the mills at Lowell National Historical Park. While chaperone mothers tote tankards of iced coffee and admire the charming red-brick factories that date from the 1820s, students examine spinning and weaving machines operated by ‘mill girls’ as young as 10 and envision the roar and sweat of fiber-saturated rooms in full production. Properly horrified, young visitors draw the conclusion that only mean, bad people make children work. Then they retreat to their own world of school and play . . . read more.”

The Massacre of Innocents: A History Professor Reflects on the Newtown Tragedy

Tal Howard, director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry

(Editor’s note: This essay also appeared January 7, 2013, on the Patheos web site, as well as January 5, 2013, in the print and online editions of the Salem News.) 

By Tal Howard, professor of history

The senseless tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, prior to Christmas continues to haunt me. We have had school shootings in this country before, to be sure, but the age of the victims puts this case, in my mind at least, in a category by itself.

Too bad for public discourse that the “lesson” of this tragedy quickly became a bone of contention between those who want to limit gun rights and those who think “mental health issues” and our culture of violence bear the blame. Am I wrong when I say that most sensible people believe that this is an all-of-the-above no-brainer: some restrictions on military-grade weapons and attention to mental health questions and criticism of our violent popular culture should be part of any solution? Continue reading

Faculty Kudos: Essays, Books and Professional Contributions

As the fall 2012 semester came to a close, there was much to celebrate with our faculty’s many recent contributions in their respective fields. Here’s a very brief overview:

Provost Curry

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay by Provost Janel Curry this week in its careers section. The essay entitled, The Education of a Provost” chronicles Dr. Curry‘s path to her position at Gordon and reminds readers that no part of their journey is wasted. 

Craig Story

Craig Story, associate professor of biology and advisor for Gordon’s health professions, and Justin Topp, associate professor of biology, recently received news of a generous grant from the BioLogos Foundation to “build an international network of pastors committed to increasing their scientific literacy.” (A formal announcement will be forthcoming.)

Assistant professor of English Chad Stutz just signed a contract for a book published by British house Paternoster Press as part of their Studies in Evangelical History and Thought series. With a tentative title, Evangelicals and Aesthetics from the 1750s to the 1930s, the book provides an intellectual history of a largely forgotten tradition of aesthetic discourse among British and American evangelicals between the time of the first awakenings of a modern aesthetic consciousness in the eighteenth century to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century.

Gordon education students with students from Lynn Classical High

Gordon education students in the course, Understanding the Context of the Urban School and ESL students from Lynn Classical High collaborated on an interactive field trip exploring the benefits of higher education, thanks to adjunct professor of education and alumna Melissa Winchell who organized the event.

Judith Oleson, professor of social work, supervised nine social work students in field placements in Romania, San Francisco, and throughout Boston’s North and South Shores. Students served in various councils on aging, youth and family services agencies, Catholic Charities, and specific intervention programs.

In an essay entitled, “More Powerful Than Words” and published in the Huffington Post, Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, explored the impact of symbols through his Accessibility Icon Project

Professor of history Jennifer Hevelone-Harper wrote an editorial entitled, “How St. Francis Made Christmas New and Smelly” that appeared on the opinion page of the Salem News, a regional newspaper that reaches several thousand in circulation across the North Shore of Boston.

Making the Music of History . . . at the Smithsonian

David Goss (center in red shirt) and The 2nd South Carolina String Band at the Smithsonian Institute.

It wasn’t the first time David Goss, assistant professor of history and director of museum studies, performed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. But it was still, well, the Smithsonian. So Goss and his Civil War band, The 2nd South Carolina String Band, traveled back last month to play their period instruments and music in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. They played in the room where Lincoln held his second Inaugural dinner; the event attracted over 6,000 guests. 

Goss plays guitar and is the lead singer of the band, which performed over 25 songs from the era with period instruments. Last spring, he and his band members also played when Documentarian Ken Burns, who directed the PBS television series on the Civil War, was the keynote speaker. Some 300 audience members attended that event at the Smithsonian.

“Playing again (at the Smithsonian)  underscores the reality that this era in American history is becoming more popular within the culture, not just the academic community,” Goss said. “And it shows why the Civil War was so important on so many levels. Everything in our country changed from that point on: from states’ rights and race relations to the influence the federal government would have on states and how they would operate from then on. It really was a pivotal time for our country.”

Hosting the Intersection of Faith and History

Jennifer Hevelone-Harper

Whether the topic is humanism in Turkey, sex and politics from the Medieval Church to the Reformation, or Christian identity and practice in the early Middle Ages, Gordon’s history professors will be instrumental during this week’s 28th Conference on Faith and History on campus, Oct. 3-6. A wide variety of panel discussions, presentations and keynote talks are scheduled and will bring over 250 visitors to campus.

Led by Jennifer Hevelone-Harper, professor of history, other participating Gordon professors will include: Stephen G. Alter, department chair and associate professor of history; K. David Goss; assistant professor of history; Tal Howard, professor of history and chair of the Center for Christian Studies; David Wick, professor of history; Roger Green, professor of biblical studies, and adjunct professors Agnes HowardSuzanne Hevelone, and Ute Possekel.

The Historic Role of Christians in Higher Education

Ever since the Enlightenment, Christians have tried to navigate an increasingly diverse culture as well as the various disciplines within higher education. During a one day conference sponsored by Baylor University entitled, The Cross and The Book: Sacred and Secular in the Age of BrowningStephen Alter, associate professor of history and department chair, will address some of those issues through the lens of one of the country’s leading scholars in the 19th century, a Baptist who helped found the University of Chicago. Here’s some of what Alter will discuss:

The University, the Old Testament, and the Baptist Consensus: William Rainey Harper’s Crisis of Conscience

By Stephen G. Alter

“My paper traces William Rainey Harper’s struggle to articulate a scholarly yet reverent view of the Old Testament in the period when Harper was preparing to become the founding president of the University of Chicago, a premier research institution funded by America’s richest Baptist, John D. Rockefeller. As editor of the journal The Old Testament Student, Harper was, hands down, the most influential figure at the end of the nineteenth century as far as educating American evangelicals about critical Bible scholarship. How could Harper go about promoting a greater openness to biblical criticism while retaining the trust of evangelicals, all for the greater progress of the faith?”

“All Things Ancient”: Wick Receives 2012 Marv Wilson Teaching Award

One student has called him a “human encyclopedia on all things ancient.” Whether leading seminars to Greece or mentoring students through their own research, David Wick, professor of history, has consistently modeled outstanding and inspiring scholarship. As a result, he has received the 2012 Marv Wilson Award for Teaching Excellence, which each year honors a faculty member from the Humanities Division or the Department of History.

The award was established in 2006 through the generosity of Gordon alumna Betsy Gage Pea ’79 and her husband Barry who wanted to honor Dr. Wilson. While studying as a history major, Betsy took many biblical studies courses from Wilson. In response, she established the gift not only to recognize Wilson for his years of passionate teaching but also to encourage other faculty to strive for similar success in the classroom for years to come.  In addition to having his name engraved on the award plaque in Frost Hall, Wick will receive an additional $1,000 for funding expenses to enrich his teaching and scholarship in the coming year.  Stephen Alter, associate professor and chair of the history department, wrote the following about his colleague:

“Excellent teaching involves content, communication skill and personal relationship. Those who know David and his work are awed by the way that he embodies and balances these several dimensions of the teacher’s craft.

He brings to his teaching a vast knowledge of the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean worlds, from religious to scientific to military history. One student recalled of the 2011 “Aegean Seminar” that he conducts to Greece every other summer: ‘Each day I’d find myself gravitating toward our human encyclopedia on all things ancient, Dr. David Wick. He shared with us myriad stories of Greek culture, politics, biography and warfare, creating before our eyes an ancient world for us to walk through.’ Continue reading