My Summer Vacation

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Did you know?

  • The members of the NHL champion Boston Bruins will have three full months between their Game 7 triumph and the beginning of training camp in which to play golf, go to the beach, and do silly things with the Stanley Cup. (Of course, members of my Minnesota Wild and the league’s thirteen other non-playoff entrants have been on vacation for more than two months already.)
  • After filming Days of Heaven, Terence Malick took a two-decade break before coming out with The Thin Red Line.
  • Harper Lee is now into a second half-century taking time off from novel-writing. (Though, to be fair, she has cranked out four essays in that time, five if you include a brief piece in 2006 for this magazine. Seriously.)

Not to sound defensive, but being married to someone who doesn’t work in education, I’m accustomed to seeing eyes roll when a college professor talks about his plans for “work” during summer break. So, keeping in mind that this vacation is relatively short as far as professional pauses go…

Here are four things I’m, ahem, working on that will show up in various forms on this blog:

Planning a travel course on World War I

French Soldiers, December 1914
French Soldiers Dressed for the Winter of 1914-1915

During the month of January, Bethel has a three-week interim term (“J-Term”) in which students register for only one academic course that meets for three hours a day. Most of my time at Bethel I’ve spent J-Term teaching a sophomore-level gen ed course on the history of World War I. (Here’s an ad for the course we produced last year.)

I’m spending a good chunk of this summer preparing a proposal to teach this class as a travel course, an option that’s very popular at Bethel for J-Term (it’s helped boost our study abroad standing enormously) yet missing from our department’s offerings. I’ve got January 2012 off (see top three points again), and plan to spend two weeks with my wife in England, Belgium, France, and Germany scouting out museums, battlefields, memorials, and other sites that might feature in the travel course.

But starting tomorrow I plan to conduct a virtual version of the proposed course on this blog, day-by-day going through where we would be at that point in J-term. In each post I’ll talk about a theme from the war’s history, reflect on a poem, play, or work of art that connects with that portion of the trip, or provide a brief tour of the museum or site we’d be visiting at that point.

Mission, objectives, and virtues

Our department is in the middle of revising our mission statement and objectives. While we’ll certainly include the acquisition of historical knowledge as a central objective, we’ll also affirm that we view education as more formative than informative. That emphasis will show up in a discussion of how historical study can cultivate wisdom — wisdom as Eugene Peterson (in the introduction to Proverbs in The Message) defines it: “living skillfully.”

I hope to share more from this process, as well as my still-emerging thoughts on a different (though not necessarily disconnected) way of approaching the notion of education as formation: the cultivation of virtue. Beyond the classical or “cardinal” virtues (temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice) and the Pauline triad (faith, hope, love/charity), could studying the past form virtues like patience, humility, hospitality, and joy?

Article on Pietism in the historiography of Christian colleges

Last spring I presented a talk at Bethel entitled “In Search of a ‘Usable Past’: Pietism in the Historiography of Christian Colleges and Universities.” It considered, first, why those who write the histories of most colleges and universities founded by churches/denominations with Pietist roots have not seen Pietism as providing a “usable past” that can shape the institutions’ present-day identities and missions; then second, two important exceptions to that rule: North Park and Bethel.

As I work to turn that paper into a publishable article, I’d like to share key sections of the developing draft for your comments.

The “Friedmann Thesis”

Conducting the research for that paper led me deeper into the relationship between Pietism and Anabaptism, since many of the churches I encountered were forged at the intersection of those two Christian traditions (e.g., the Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, United Brethren). Not coming from an Anabaptist background myself, I was struck by the degree of antipathy with which some 20th century Anabaptist scholars regarded Pietism.

Harold S. Bender
Harold S. Bender - Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online

Seeking to understand their criticism of a tradition that has been so important to me, I’ve dabbled in Anabaptist history this summer, starting with Harold Bender’s landmark essay, “The Anabaptist Vision,” and Robert Friedmann’s 1949 book, Mennonite Piety through the Centuries. Friedmann is especially significant for having put forward the thesis that 17th/18th century Pietists (while sharing with Anabaptists an emphasis on experience over dogma, the authority of Scripture, and concern for “a Christian reality which lies beyond church and worship”) accommodated themselves to “the middle-class life of the time,” abandoning true discipleship in favor of an overly emotional, individualistic, and other-worldly piety “which no longer caused the authorities of state or church any trouble.”

This summer on the blog I plan to elaborate on the “Friedmann thesis,” how it’s been repeated and challenged within Anabaptist-Mennonite historiography, and how it holds up when one looks at the late 19th/20th century Swedish-Americans at the heart of my research into Pietist models of higher education.

2 thoughts on “My Summer Vacation

  1. I think that a WWI J-term trip would be a really interesting adventure for students! Great idea. I had always wished there was a history dept. j-term trip, but there wasn’t any when I was student. I’m looking forward to reading about the play by play. You should definitely have them go to the Imperial War Museum in London – they have a full-size recreation of a trench you can wander through.

  2. 1st: Gosh, I can’t believe you’re not doing anything of substantive value this summer. 😉
    2nd: I have wanted a J-term trip for World War I since I came to Bethel so hearing that the first steps to create a trip are now underway is extremely exciting! If you should need additional chaperones for the trip, I could probably clear my schedule in 2-3 years time. 😉

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