The Pope and The Professor: Digging Into the Vatican Archives

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.”

Inspiring the Next Generation of Singers

YMCF.HillmanMore than 100 young men recently gathered in Providence, Rhode Island, not to compete in a sport or debate in a tournament, but to sing.

Under the leadership of Jamie Hillman, assistant professor of music, and a group of Gordon music students, the singers participated in the 2014 Young Men’s  Choral Festival sponsored by the Providence Singers. Hillman, along with student conductor Alessio Tranchell, lead the Gordon College Men’s Choir in songs such as Festival Sanctus  (John Leavitt);  My Lord, What a Morning   (arr. R. Lee Gilliam); and Geographical Fugue  (Ernst Toch). Hillman was invited because of his extensive background and expertise in choral conducting, and also conducted the Young Men’s Choir Festival final concert with songs such as: Cripple Creek   (arr. Ken Berg); Dirait-on   (arr. Morten Lauridsen) and No Ne Li Domi   (arr. Jester Hairston). To watch a short video of the event, click here.

Bringing Families Together, One Conversation—and Super Bowl Commercial—at a Time

JSarrouf_2012_07_18_03_21_51Sunday’s Super Bowl commercials won’t just be featuring the usual chips and beer promotions. This year’s will include a new Cheerios commercial with a family at the breakfast table, part of a national campaign to promote family mealtime conversations that John Sarrouf, adjunct professor of communication arts and sociology, is behind. Sarrouf, director of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit organization and grass roots movement that promotes “food, fun and conversation about things that matter,” said that the General Mills Company recognized their work and initiated the partnership.

“At The Family Dinner Project, we’ve traveled the country talking with parents about the importance of mealtime in helping families stay connected—and about its many physical, academic and emotional benefits for children,” he said. “When Cheerios reached out in support of our mission to connect families through food, fun and conversation about things that matter, we were thrilled.”

Sarrouf, who teaches screenwriting as well as peace and conflict studies, wrote the script— is featured in—a COMMERCIAL for the Family Dinner Project that is being aired on regional television. National Public Radio also featured Sarrouf and the Family Dinner Project in a story on today’s Morning Edition, which can be heard HERE.

Exploring the Dynamics between Rural Poverty and Education

Phillips explored the area in many ways!

 It’s cold in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And its economy, once built on forest and maple products, has faltered into today’s sparsely populated, economically disadvantaged region of the state. But neither stopped Suzanne Phillips, professor of psychology, from spending a year long sabbatical in 2012-2013 there. In fact, she felt right at home.

That’s because she was born there. As a first generation college student herself, Phillips wanted to merge scholarship interests as a community psychologist into a specific research project: rural populations, post-secondary education and first generation college students. So she settled into a borrowed office at White Mountains Community College, in the heart of Coos County just south of the Canadian border, and went to work.

“New Hampshire is a wealthy state but the wealth is not distributed evenly,” she said. “I wanted to understand the impact poverty had on education, why people born in Coos County seemed to have less access to education and what the implications of both were for the local quality of life. 

She started by noticing how six of the seven campuses that comprise the Community College System of NH are clustered in the southern part of the state.  White Mountains Community College, located three miles from downtown Berlin, is the only higher education institution in Coos County where 300-350 high school students graduate in a typical year.

Phillips gained access to government and college databases to determine how many go on to higher education. What she discovered was startling, even for local educators she talked with: between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of new high school graduates in Coos County starting college jumped from 58 percent to 69 percent.  By contrast, the state as a whole did not see a change in college matriculation rates and during this same period, other counties declined.  Continue reading

Models of Excellence, Scholars in Dialogue

Gordon professors from very different fields are often invited to offer their insights and expertise on teaching and dialogue at national gatherings. Here are three recent examples:

Crisman-_Karl-Dieter_2007_11_01_10_12_39In January as the Joint Mathematics Meeting gathered in Baltimore—”the world’s largest mathematics meeting in the world”—Karl-Dieter Crisman, associate professor of mathematics, was there as well. In a poster presentation, Crisman discussed Gordon’s long-running relationship with a local community partner, Girls Inc of Lynn, Mass: “We used a Tensor grant to begin a Math Circles program with an explicit mentoring component for urban middle school girls, mostly from underrepresented minorities.  After one semester, the program has been a success in getting the girls excited about math; it has also provided extremely good experience in flexibility and thinking on one’s feet for our mentors, who are mostly pre-service mathematics educators.” Crisman also gave a talk entitled, “Thou Shalt Compute, in One Click: Using (Embedded) Sage Cells Online” where he demonstrated several ways to use free, open-source Sage cell technology as part of his pedagogy.

Brink-_Paul_2007_11_02_08_59_52Paul Brink, associate professor of political science, will also participate in a unique dialogue related to his scholarship. At an event sponsored by The Constitution Project (TCP) in Washington, D.C., in March, Brink will travel there to discuss a recently commissioned TCP report called, “Preventing Irreversible Error: Recommended Reforms in the Administration of Capital Punishment,” which offers current analysis of the country’s death penalty system to help Americans get beyond fruitless debate over abstractions. Brink was one of only 20 evangelical leaders invited to participate and said that the “goal of the report was not to resolve the theoretical issue of whether the death penalty is right or wrong in the abstract. Instead, it’s to examine how the death penalty is actually practiced and how that practice might better conform to constitutional principles and American values, regardless of theoretical positions.”

Vanborre_Emmanuelle_0729_sm_2011_11_22_10_58_43Dialogue and technology are crucial elements for professors of foreign languages. Emmanuelle Vanborre, associate professor of French, will also present in March at a training workshop called, “Technology as a Tool for Linguistic and Cultural Development” for the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language in Boston. Vanborre will  explore “numerous ways to help make students proficient readers and writers, and to integrate art, culture and literature in the curriculum through technology. I’ll  present strategies  (in French) that can help facilitate comprehension and expression by focusing on developing reading and writing skills while enhancing background knowledge of culture, history, geography, and politics.”

A “Privileged” Life

As the nation pauses on Monday to honor the vision and efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some professors at Gordon are also considering his impact on their work. Katie Knudsen, adjunct professor of Christian Theology, and The Great Conversations, and Coordinator of Academically-Based Service-Learning in the Office of Community Engagement, offers the following personal essay in recognition of the issues Dr. King raised as he pursued racial reconciliation.

A “Privileged” Life

photo.cfmBy Katie Knudsen

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a conservative Jewish home. My town was largely white, but more diverse by far than the area I currently call home, the North Shore of Massachusetts. My best friends were some fellow Jews, a Korean and an African American from my neighborhood. Even so, I never thought much about race and was never really confronted with it. When we celebrated MLK Day, I was content knowing my ancestors were busy being harassed in Eastern Europe during the time of slavery and Jim Crow.

Clearly, it was a naive response.

College, however, was an awakening. At Duke University in North Carolina, far from home and the culture to which I was accustomed, I became the first Jew a few of my classmates had ever met. There was an enormous population of African Americans, which was exciting for me. I loved getting to know black students, listening to their music in our freshmen dorm, learning from them how to straighten my very-curly hair.

Some things were more unsettling. Every single cook, janitor, and landscaper I met at Duke was African American. It was uncomfortable always being served by black people, but they were the people in the area who needed the jobs, so some sort of “affirmative action” for white service people would have been inappropriate. I began to wonder, though, why so many African Americans were seeking such low-paying work.

Which brings me to the most emotionally-draining, yet life-changing class of my educational career. The year before graduation, I registered for “Race and Education in America,” a class my now-husband and I quickly renamed “Why White People Suck.” The first few weeks in the class were difficult. My Black and Latino peers behaved differently in this class than I was used to them behaving. Many were angry and combative, and they frequently focused on this thing called “white privilege.” Continue reading

Psychology Beyond the Classroom

Gerber_JP_0666_sm_2011_11_22_11_02_26Though the new semester has officially begun, like most Gordon scholars, Jonathan Gerber, associate professor of psychology, is preparing for more than his classes. This spring, he will be chairing two symposia to celebrate the 60th anniversary of social comparison theory. The first is an invited symposium at Eastern Psychological Association in Boston this March, and involves several regional researchers. The second is at theAssociation for Psychological Science, a large psychology conference, in San Francisco this May.

Chairing both reflects on the work Gerber has been doing with Ladd Wheeler on a social comparison meta-analysis. Wheeler is one of the foremost experts on the theory, having followed it for 50 years, and suggested Gerber do a second meta-analysis after seeing his work on rejection. Social comparison is a large research area, and most prominent social psychologists have addressed it in their scholarship. Gerber also plans to follow up this work  with a grant application to put a social comparison research database online, which would involve a number of social comparison researchers.

Earlier this month, Gerber also published an article on how preparing for rejection can lessen its effects. In it, he takes apart the accepted academic view of rejection—which suggests rejection hurts because it devalues existing relationships—and shows that rejection does hurt even when you don’t have a relationship. Gerber then shows that expectations might be a better model of why rejection hurts. Expecting rejection makes it much less harmful to us, even if it doesn’t quite totally remove the harm.

When Art Meets Sociological History

In the 1970s, residential institutions for intellectually disabled children and adults throughout the country were common place. They were also often overcrowded and understaffed. In fact, one contemporary artist, Randall Deihl, captured in his paintings one such institution known as the Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded in Belchertown, MA, a institution that became known for its inhumane treatment of its patients.

Based on that history and because of his scholarship on such institutions, James Trent, professor of sociology, has been invited to speak at The Smith College Museum of Art during a two-day symposium, “Excavating the Image: The Belchertown State School by Randall Deihl.” Trent’s talk entitled, “A Season in Hell’s Palace,” explores his own experiences of working at a residential institution for intellectually disabled children and adults, along with an examination of Randall Deihl’s painting.  The lecture takes place on January 9, 2014, at the Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Trent said the talk includes stories he has not discussed before in public, some based on his own experiences several years ago while studying at Duke University when he was asked to teach Sunday School at  the Murdoch Center. The Center, he later learned, was a public residential facility that housed 2,500 children and adults who in those days would have been called “mentally retarded.”  The experience shaped the course of his work and interests.

Revolutionaries and One Remarkable Woman: Friends from 19th Century British Mathematics

Take several mathematical equations, add a few radicals and you get some thinkers whose influence still affects today’s math world, according to Richard Stout, professor of mathematics. As part of the mathematics department’s monthly and public Math Forums on campus, Stout will be discussing some key figures in history, Tuesday, December 3, 2013, in the Ken Olsen Science Center room 127 from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Stout‘s talk will also be the basis of his research next semester while on sabbatical. Here’s how he describes it:

“If you had been a student at Cambridge University in the early nineteenth century (sorry, no women allowed) you would have studied mathematics—lots of mathematics. This was especially true if you wanted to graduate with distinction. However, the mathematics taught at Cambridge around 1810 was still held captive to the methods and memory of their most famous graduate, Isaac Newton. The exciting new results and methods coming from France, Germany, and other places on the continent, were not communicated to Cambridge students, at least not until a group of exceptional students formed a radical organization called the Analytical Society.

“These revolutionaries—Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and George Peacock—were students who went on to reform mathematics at Cambridge and provide leadership for British science over the next fifty years. These people, over the last few years, have become good friends of mine, and so I’ll focus on the academic, mathematical, and even religious climate in which they worked.

“But what of the women? Although she was not part of this Cambridge group, we will also look at the remarkable work of Mary Somerville, a woman of privilege who persevered and overcame great odds to pursue a life of intellectual vigor and influence, providing translations and commentaries for important works such as Laplace’s difficult work, Mécanique Céleste. This is an interesting era in the history of mathematics, with some fascinating people who I hope will become your friends too.”