Showing posts from February, 2018

Principles of Luddite pedagogy

My classes begin in this way: With phone in hand, I say, "Please put your phones and devices away," and thereupon put my own in my bag out of sight. I then say, "The Lord be with you." (And also with you.) "Let us pray." I then offer a prayer, usually the Collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. After the prayer, we get started. And for the next 80 minutes (or longer, if it is a grad seminar or intensive course), there is not a laptop, tablet, or smart phone in sight. If I catch a student on her phone, and Lord knows college students are not subtle, she is counted tardy for the day and docked points on her participation grade. Only after I dismiss class do the addicts—sorry, my students—satiate their gnawing hunger for a screen, and get their fix.

For larger lecture courses (40-60 students) with lots of information to communicate, I use PowerPoint slides. But for smaller numbers and especially for seminars, neither a computer nor the internet n…

Rowan Williams on Jewish identity and religious freedom in liberal modernity

"The [French] revolution wanted to save Jews from Judaism, turning them into rational citizens untroubled by strange ancestral superstitions. It ended up taking just as persecutory an approach as the Church and the Christian monarchy. The legacies of Christian bigotry and enlightened contempt are tightly woven together in the European psyche, it seems, and the nightmares of the 20th century are indebted to both strands.
"In some ways, this prompts the most significant question to emerge from the [history of Jews in modern Europe].  Judaism becomes a stark test case for what we mean by pluralism and religious liberty: if the condition for granting religious liberty is, in effect, conformity to secular public norms, what kind of liberty is this? More than even other mainstream religious communities, Jews take their stand on the fact that their identity is not an optional leisure activity or lifestyle choice. Their belief is that they are who they are for reasons …

My dissertation acknowledgements

Dissertations are strange creatures: written by many, read by few, important to none but the authors. In a way, dissertations are like the angels of St. Thomas Aquinas, not species of a genus but each a genus unto itself.

And yet many years, blood, sweat, and tears go into dissertations; and so the acknowledgements at their beginning are often a moment to step back and thank those who have made finishing the (by then) cursed thing possible. So far as I can tell, there are two different types of acknowledgements: minimalist and maximalist. Either the author thanks only those who contributed materially and directly to the dissertation's production (one friend thanked, if I recall correctly, only about a dozen individuals), or she mentions more or less every single human being she has met along the way—anyone from whom she has received as much as a cup of cold water. I fall in the latter category, both by temperament (being prolix in life and in prose) and by conviction (a lot of peo…

On the speech of Christ in the Psalms

Tomorrow morning I am giving a lecture to some undergraduate students at Baylor University; the lecture's title is "Unlike Any Other Book: Theological Reflections on the Bible and its Faithful Interpretation." The lecture draws from four different writings: a dissertation chapter, a review essay for Marginalia,an article for Pro Ecclesia, and an article for International Journal of Systematic Theology.

As every writer knows, reading your own work can be painful. There's always more you can do to make it better. But sometimes you're happy with what you wrote. And I think the following quotation from the IJST piece, especially the final paragraph, is one of my pieces of writing I'm happiest about. It both makes a substantive point clearly and effectively, and does so with appropriate rhetorical force. Not many of you, surely, have read the original article; so here's a sample taste:

"[S]ince the triune God is the ecumenical confession of the church, i…