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Philosophy and Religion 2000 Newsletter

July 2000

To Alumni and Friends of the Department of Philosophy and Religion,

Some day it may fall to me to write you news of a bad year for our department, but it hasn't happened yet. Once again we had a year of which we are very proud.

Wabash's new strategic plan says, early on, "Wabash exists for students." Teaching our students well has always been what is most important for our department. So it is good news that we continue to have good numbers of majors and minors--in thhe senior class, three majors and thirteen minors in philosophy; seventeen majors and nine minors in religion. By my admittedly unreliable math, 23% of the graduating class either majored or minored in philosophy or religion.

They measured high in quality as well as quantity. Four of our majors achieved distinction in comprehensive examinations (one of those, Ian Gerdon, in both philosophy and religion). Three were elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Our majors won the top two places in the Harrison Essay contest, the outstanding editor award, the outstanding student-in-journalism award, the teacher-in-training excellence award, and the Glee Club senior award. I am reporting on the senior class but, as I look over the program from awards night, I also note that another of our majors won the Lewis Salter Memorial Award for outstanding student in the junior class, and that two of the Walter Fertig Prizes in freshman writing were awarded to students for papers in our courses.

Senior majors from our department will be going on in a number of different directions next year, everything from teaching high school to selling insurance. Let me mention only those who will be beginning work in graduate school: two to Harvard Divinity School, three to the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, one to the University of Chicago, one to Christendom University, and one when last heard from still deciding between Pittsburgh and Louisville seminaries.

Hall Peebles continues in his retirement to be an active presence in the department, in his office most days when he is not travelling. This year's major trip was to Myanmar (which, for the not-up-to-date, used to be Burma), which he describes as a still living Buddhist culture of a sort he had not, even in his wide travels, seen before. He is finishing revisions on his manuscript, The Sheep and the Goats, a comparative study of ideas about eternal punishment in Eastern and Western religions.

Raymond Williams continues to teach part-time in the department as well as directing the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. The Center received a $6 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to continue its work for the next three years. Every summer, faculty members from all over the country come to Wabash for workshops and consultations on how to improve the teaching of religion in seminaries and graduate and undergraduate departments--over a hundred have been involved in our programs this summer alone. Raymond serves as editor of Teaching Theology and Religion, an international journal published by Basil Blackwell in Oxford. In addition to his teaching and administrative work, Raymond continues his scholarly career as perhaps the most authoritative expert on the religion of South Asian immigrants to this country. He co-edited one book, The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States, published this year by SUNY Press, and another, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in the United States, soon to be published by Oxford University Press. Cambridge University Press will shortly issue a revised edition of his book Swaminarayan Hinduism: An Introduction.

Glen Helman continues to be one of Wabash's leaders in the use of computers in the classroom, both in developing his own text for his logic course and preparing materials for computer display in his aesthetics course, as well as serving on the college's computer advisory committee.

Steve Webb has been on leave this year, but it has been a busy time for him. He completed two books: Taking Religion to School: Christian Theology and Secular Education will be published by Brazos Press this fall, and Christian Vegetarianism: A Biblical Theology of Diet will appear shortly thereafter. In addition, Steve gave invited lectures at Purdue and Kalamazoo, published articles in Modern Theology, Teaching Theology and Religion (that one co-authored with me), and Books and Culture as well as an essay in a new book, John Updike and Religion, and a number of reviews. Even with this astonishing productivity, his leave gave him more time to be a father to Charis and Barek.

Cheryl Hughes undertook a range of important roles this year, as faculty visitor to the board of trustees, chair of the faculty development committee, and member of the faculty relations commitee working with the board of directors of the National Association of Wabash Men. Her professional work has centered on her new responsibilities as editor of Social Philosophy Today, the annual volume of papers published by the North American Society for Social Philosophy. This year's volume has appeared, and she is already at work on next year's. Cheryl is spending much of this summer on the edge of the Great Smokies in Knoxville, Tennessee, at an institute on bioethics sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. She will be on leave next year, and plans to spend part of that time continuing her work on medical ethics.

David Blix has served us as a superb teacher in a number of temporary slots for several years now. His colleagues and his students were both pleased this year when we did a national search for a tenure-track position in Asian religions and identified David as the best candidate in the pool. It is good to have him established as a continuing member of the department. He spent last summer at Indiana University doing a course in Chinese and is at Ann Arbor this summer doing advanced work in Chinese language.

Our new colleague Bob Royalty came to us with a Yale Ph.D. after several years of teaching at Stanford. He has taken over our courses in Bible with great success: Religion 1 was the first course in the college to "fill up" to its limit for next fall. Bob's book, The Streets of Heaven, on the book of Revelation, qualifies him as an expert on things millenial; he was interviewed and quoted by the Wall Street Journal, and a good many local papers picked up an AP story quoting him on the religious side of Y2K. These chances only come along once every thousand years, so he had to make the most of it. Bob has just returned from Turkey, where he visited key sites for the history of early Christianity and took digital pictures to be used in his teaching.

It was wonderful to have Warren Smith here as a colleague, replacing Steve Webb. Warren proved a wonderfully active member of the Wabash community and a gifted and pastoral teacher. He leaves us to teach at Yale next year. Richard Lynch, who is just completing his Ph.D. at Boston College, will be joining us next year as Cheryl Hughes' replacement. Another of this year's pleasures was welcoming back our former colleague Michael Brown, now teaching at Emory University, to preach this year's baccalaureate sermon.

My major scholarly project has been the completion of a book on Christology, tentatively entitled Jesus the Savior and just sent off to my publisher, Westminster John Knox Press. (Those of you who noted that this year's letter is arriving later than usual may now have a clue for reasons for the delay.) Steve Webb let me collaborate with him on an article for Teaching Theology and Religion, which we mostly wrote as a series of e-mails to each other. I wrote some pieces for Christian Century and a number of book reviews.

In a way this letter seems too full of numbers and titles. They are the quantifiable evidence of the continued excellence of our department, but I wish I could more effectively convey the hard-to-measure energies of faculty members working with students and students coming intellectually alive. Still, I hope you will remember what that is like from your own Wabash experience.


William C. Placher
LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities
and Chair, Department of Philosophy and Religion