I ain’t going nowhere. I’m still here at Baylor’s Honors College, and I’ll continue, mostly, to do what I’ve been doing. But I have a new job title, and I want to explain what that means for me.
My new title, which is sorta bolted on to the old one, is – and I’m gonna need to take a deep breath here – the Jim and Sharon Harrod Chair of Christian Thought and Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University. That, friends, is a mouthful and no mistake.
When I was invited to apply for this newly-created position, I hesitated. I hesitated simply because I love the humanities – all the disciplines of humanistic learning, and all the ways they interact with one another – and I love the idea of professing a body of learning, a way of thinking, that is so often neglected, despised, and, by many of its soi-disant adherents, betrayed. I liked my old job title; through it I could stand for something I want to stand for. I didn’t want to give it up. (As it turns out, I get to keep it! – but I didn’t at the outset know how Baylor would handle the whole business.)
That said, I have also spent much of my career trying to demonstrate to readers the enduring power and relevance of the 2000-year history of Christian thought. My first book was largely about W. H. Auden’s discovery of the richness of that complicated and sometimes contradictory tradition; my second monograph tried to imagine how the challenges of literary reading and interpretation could be navigated with the aid of Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana (297–426 AD). And I have gone on in this vein ever since, as best I’ve been able. I hope to continue as long as I can.
I’ll be giving an inaugural lecture at some point in the coming year, and I’ll probably post it here.
Also, I’ve been talking with my bosses, Doug Henry and Elizabeth Corey, about a signature course for the chair – or at least a course that suits the ways I can exemplify the character and the purpose of the chair, and honor the generosity of the Harrods. (Some later holder of the chair, from some discipline other than mine, will surely do something totally different.) To conclude this post, here’s my initial sketch:
The Christian Renaissance of the 20th Century
By the end of the 19th century, close observers of elite culture were confident that Christianity was soon to be dead – at least among the artists and intellectuals of the Western world. Those observers were wrong. The twentieth century witnessed a great intellectual and artistic flourishing among Christians, a flourishing that altered the entire cultural landscape of the Western world. In this class we will explore this signal development. Figures studied may include:
- Writers of fiction: J. R. R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, Shūsaku Endō
- Poets: T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Geoffrey Hill
- Composers: Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, John Tavener
- Philosophers: Jacques Maritain, G. M. Anscombe, Alvin Plantinga
- Theologians: Karl Barth, Simone Weil, C. S. Lewis
- Visual artists: Georges Rouault, Arcabas, Mako Fujimura
- Filmmakers: Robert Bresson, Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese
The goal here is not to give a comprehensive survey — that would be too vast a challenge for one course — but rather to understand how Christian thinkers and artists changed, and are still changing, our cultural world.
(Obviously I could replace all of those figures with others and still make the thing work; the multitude of choices just shows how vast in scope this renaissance has been.)