At Emerging Scholars Network, we love to crowdsource ideas for following Christ faithfully and serving others well in the academic life. In the 2018/2019 academic year, we’ve been sharing brief insights on how to grow spiritually in the academic life from many of the writers in our network. Read the series to date here, or check out more of Brandon’s work for ESN.
One of the great freedoms of teaching at a New College Franklin is learning new things. My specialty is in Philosophy and Literature, but I have taught Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy. My most recent Amazon orders included two physics textbooks. This is all to say that it is not unusual for me to teach outside my wheelhouse. Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming, and I wonder whether I need to get another degree in one of the hard sciences. I pray that I do not!
But even when I am teaching something in my own concentration, I am often confronted with the limits of my knowledge. My reaction in such moments is a good gauge of my spiritual condition. Am I filled with shame? Do I try to distract the students from this fact? Do I become more dogmatic? Or do I accept that there is not an ontological difference between us—that we are all students, human beings, limited, learning, and in need of wisdom?
Perhaps this is an an unpopular virtue that I am extolling here (humility). But it should go hand in hand, not only with the Christian life, but in academics. Without humility, I am prone to distort the truth, to close myself off from it, or to use it to puff myself up. Part of the challenge in academia is that my success seems tied to my ‘expertise.’ This is true with varying degrees depending on the field one is in (structural engineering vs. philosophy).
But there is one area which none of us are experts, and strangely enough it is in being human. Part of my spiritual life needs to include the practice of being authentically human. This means admitting when I don’t know, being surprised, delighted, corrected, having questions, and receiving help from peers, even from students. Overall, it means an openness to a path or way rather than developing a false sense of arrival or fostering an aura of unimpeach-ability.
Strangely enough, I experience closeness with God and others when I practice this.