Episode 59: Dan Ritchie

Professor Ritchie joins Professor Peffley and Professor Kooistra for the last podcast of the year to talk about his journey to becoming an English professor, the Humanities program, and their summer reading lists.

As Professor Kooistra mentioned last week, Professor Ritchie had seen her carrying Ulysses and had offered her a copy of Harry Blamires’ reading guide to Ulysses. In this podcast, Professor Ritchie shares that he found great beauty in the work of James Joyce which connected to the way that Fyodor Dostoevsky thought about beauty. Ultimately he felt drawn to how literature could connect aesthetic beauty and theological beauty.

In terms of James Joyce works, Professor Ritchie has attempted to read Ulysses during a study abroad trip but has found better success doing so with Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or with Dubliners. Both Professor Ritchie and Professor Peffley reflect on the beauty of being able to teach a text in the place it was written about, and the value of being able to imagine the scenes described in a book because you have been there yourself. Studying abroad is one of the ways to make education come alive, and it is a privilege to have that chance!

As the founder of the Humanities program, Professor Ritchie says that there is not necessarily a text that he would add or take away but speaks about the purpose of the program as a whole. The goal of the four courses is to make connections between disciplines such as theology and history and art and politics, and the focus of the team should be on finding texts that do this. For example, Professor Ritchie points to Milton’s Paradise Lost as a text that makes these connections really well but it is too difficult to teach in a Humanities setting. There are other texts that would be enjoyable to teach but do not make the connections in the same way. What the Humanities texts focus on is the same question Professor Ritchie asks from Paradise Lost: “How do you get an evil world from a good God?”

Some highlights from the Humanities program center around the texts that students are motivated to be involved in. Students typically are interested in a few texts pretty consistently: Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Augustine’s Confessions, and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Every time through, these are the texts that challenge the way that students think, help them make connections between different areas of study, and draw them closer to God.

Looking forward to the fall, Professor Ritchie shares that he is looking forward to teaching the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche – not because he particularly enjoys Nietzsche but because of the important discussions that come out of the readings. Additionally, students will be reading George Orwell’s 1984 over the summer to prepare for Humanities IV in the fall; a book that has strong connections to the state of our world at the moment.

As it is the last podcast of the year, the professors share both what is on their nightstand right now and something on their summer reading list. Currently, Professor Ritchie is reading Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight as well as Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai which was recommended in Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead. Over the summer, Professor Ritchie is planning to read Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne and Prayer by Ole Hallesby. Professor Peffley is reading Terry Pratchett’s Feet of Clay and is looking forward to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Currently Professor Kooistra is reading Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn, and her summer reading will include Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey.

Thank you to Professor Ritchie for joining this special episode of the podcast, and to Professor Sam Mulberry for his help producing the podcast. Professor Peffley and Professor Kooistra have done an incredible job creating this podcast; thank you for bringing the Humanities to an entirely new platform!

Episode 58: James Joyce’s Ulysses

Professor Sam Mulberry joins the podcast this week to talk about Ulysses by James Joyce! Both Professor Mulberry and Professor Peffley have read this modernist work, so they begin by sharing their thoughts and the experience of reading it.

Professor Mulberry loves James Joyce and other modernist works, and was first introduced to Joyce through his book Dubliners. His favorite Joyce work is A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, which acts as a prequel to Ulysses and tells the story of Stephen who appears in the first few episodes of Ulysses. Professor Mulberry enjoyed that Ulysses was a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, and notes that Joyce’s writing style changes in a unique way throughout the novel.

Professor Peffley has read through Ulysses over the course of a year. She began reading it after going on a trip to Dublin, Ireland and taking a James Joyce tour of the city where the tour guide kept citing quotes from this work. She describes finishing Ulysses as an achievement which feels like she just ran a marathon.

This 730-page work is best read after also having read A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and with some knowledge of Greek mythology. Professor Mulberry notes the differences in his experience reading it at a younger age and reading it several years later, and how this changed how he read Ulysses. To make Greek mythology, particularly The Odyssey, more accessible, they recommend two different translations. Charles Lamb wrote The Adventures of Ulysses as a translation, and Emily Wilson has her own newer translation as well.

Professor Mulberry and Professor Peffley both share their favorite episodes from Ulysses and discuss what they were drawn to in the book. Professor Mulberry emphasizes the connection he feels to the characters in the book. Additionally, there are aspects of Ulysses that prohibited it from being published or circulated that were eventually dismissed. However, Shakespeare and Company recognized that no publisher was rushing to pick this up and decided to just publish it themselves. This censorship and fuss around Ulysses sparked some interest for Joyce’s work.

After finishing this time through Ulysses, Professor Mulberry is starting to read The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis and also recommends Travesties by Tom Stoddard. Professor Peffley has picked up Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett and Professor Kooistra looks forward to reading Charles Lamb’s The Adventures of Ulysses.

Thank you to Professor Mulberry for joining the podcast today as well as producing it!

Episode 57: Practical Theology

Professor Kooistra and Professor Peffley welcome Dr. Erik Leafblad to the podcast this week to talk about his dissertation and his views on some aspects of practical theology. Professor Leafblad begins by explaining the issue he chose to focus on.

In the church today, and particularly in America, people are seeing a “rise of the nones” which Professor Leafblad explains as an increasing number of young people are straying away from any religious affiliation. One of the things that he initially points out is that perhaps the fact that people are leaving the institution of the church isn’t the problem, but rather indicative of other issues.

His dissertation focuses on analyzing different responses to people leaving churches and he adds his voice to conversations with people such as Charles Taylor, a social philosopher. Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, redefines secularity as more of a ‘mood’ than anything else. Taylor begins to dive into examining how this influences how people view God today, claiming that His presence and intervention isn’t as necessary as many have thought it is. Professor Leafblad disagrees with this but uses this as a conversation point in his dissertation because the sentiment that Taylor expresses is widely held in society.

Professor Leafblad offers that instead of corralling Christians in small groups, the way to have people encounter God is to send them out into the world and meet him there. Professor Peffley makes a connection to God in the Gallery by Daniel Siedell in which Siedell dives into the Christian experience with contemporary art. Going back to Martin Luther, Prostestant churches have largely strayed away from viewing art as a spiritual experience but perhaps there is a middle ground in which art can guide us towards God.

The professors discuss how the pandemic has come into play with bringing people into churches and having them encounter God. Professor Kooistra shares an experience where she saw pastors attending a rally in George Floyd square, and this seems to speak to what Professor Leafblad is saying that ministry should be. Pastors should be willing to seek out God in the world and follow Him.

When asked how the experience of writing his dissertation would influence how he would teach Humanities, Professor Leafblad suggested that the work of Gustavo Gutiérrez is a great example of someone who connects ministry to local connections and community.

Professor Leafblad is currently reading Resonance by Hartmut Rosa as well as Don DeLillo’s The Silence. Professor Peffley is reading Ulysses by James Joyce and True Enough by Catherine Elgin. Professor Kooistra is reading Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis.

Thank you to Dr. Leafblad for joining the podcast this week, and to Professor Sam Mulberry for helping produce and edit the podcast!

Episode 56: The Sparrow

Professor Kooistra and Professor Peffley are joined by two guests for this episode of the podcast. Professor Marion Larson from the English department, and Professor Nathan Gossett from the computer science department come together to discuss The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Here is your official spoiler alert: don’t read on if you want to read the book without knowing anything that happens!

Professor Larson gives a brief overview of the plot of The Sparrow before they dive into discussing the themes and lessons from the book. The plot centers around a group of people who go to another planet to contact the sentient beings they discovered. One of those people is a man named Emilio Sandoz who is a Jesuit and (seriously, last spoiler alert chance) he is the only survivor of the encounter. Another group comes to rescue him and it is immediately revealed that this sole survivor had killed a child and resorted to prostitution.

Professor Gossett explains that he didn’t like The Sparrow on his first read, but has come around more on the second read. He shares that he didn’t fully understand the genre of the book and that it was disappointing that the ending was given away within the first few pages. However, he also shares that he now appreciates how the book addresses whether there is meaning behind tragedy or not by strategically giving away the ending. Professor Larson has enjoyed this book since first reading it. She was initially introduced to the book from listening to Krista Tippett interview Mary Doria Russell for her podcast “On Being” and she notes several themes she appreciates from the book.

Russell has chosen to use another planet as a setting for the book, so that her writing will not be mixed up with any historical encounter. There is certainly commentary on how people engage these ‘first contact’ situations and the book points out that even people with good intentions can produce horrific consequences. Emilio, throughout the book, struggles with feeling abandoned or betrayed by God which points to the meaning behind the title. In the Bible, God promises not that the sparrow won’t fall but that He will see and notice the sparrow. A small theme that comes up at several points of The Sparrow is whether it is better to have a noble death defending your beliefs or if survival is more important. Professor Kooistra and Professor Peffley point to Voltaire’s Candide and the narrative of Mary Rowlandson as two other works that address this question as well.

Though it is a bit ambiguous whether the professors want to designate this book as science fiction, the removal from our ‘real world’ certainly has the benefit of framing it as an experiment rather than a commentary on a historical event.

Professor Gossett is currently reading Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett and Professor Larson is reading Dangerous Religious Ideas by Rachel Mikva. Professor Peffley is working through Ulysses by James Joyce in preparation for an upcoming podcast and Professor Kooistra has spent this week enjoying Nancy Drew novels!

Thank you to Professor Gossett and Professor Larson for joining the podcast this week, and to Professor Sam Mulberry for all of his help!

Episode 55: Looking for Love in Western Humanities

For this episode of the podcast, Professor Kooistra and Professor Peffley go through all of the Humanities courses and, in homage to the students who conducted a podcast selecting bachelors from Humanities, chose women who would be ideal partners from each semester.

For Humanities I, Professor Peffley selected Beatrice from Dante’s Purgatory as the best partner. Beatrice demonstrates wisdom when she chastises Dante (in the story) for focusing on her external beauty rather than her internal beauty. Beatrice points Dante, and subsequently readers, towards a beauty that will never fade.

As far as candidates from Humanities II, Professor Peffley points out that the women are all used more as props in Shakespeare than anything else. That being said, she does explain why Catherine from Henry V would be a perfect fit for the real Bachelor franchise. Catherine knows how to read a room and to use that to her advantage. But both Professor Peffley and Professor Kooistra agree that Catherine would not, however, be an ideal partner in real life.

Professor Kooistra, selecting for the Humanities III semester, makes a controversial decision to go with Mary Rowlandson. She acknowledges that though her views are certainly indicative of the beliefs of the time, there is something appealing about Rowlandson’s resistance and ability to survive her captivity. In her narrative, Rowlandson emphasizes the sovereignty of God a lot but still uses her own practical knowledge to be resourceful.

Both professors made a selection from Humanities IV. Professor Peffley went with both Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare’s sister from Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Woolf is incredibly intelligent, and a well-rounded academic. In her writing she envisions what it would be like for a woman to have been writing in Shakespeare’s time, and one can see hints of Woolf’s own experience as a female author. Professor Kooistra chose Mina from Bram Stoker’s Dracula for her ability to set her mind to something and accomplish it.

After making their own picks for guys from Humanities IV that would make ideal partners, both professors share what they are currently reading. Professor Peffley is reading through Ulysses by James Joyce and Professor Kooistra is reading Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis.

Thank you to Professor Sam Mulberry for recording and producing the podcast each week!

Episode 54: Sex, Love, and Courtship

Dr. Jennifer McNabb, from the University of Northern Iowa, rejoins Professor Peffley and Professor Kooistra on the podcast to discuss sex, love, and courtship in the medieval and early modern periods of Europe. Dr. McNabb will be teaching a Great Courses series on these topics, and provides an overview of her research!

Though she had initially begun believing that sex, love, and marriage were all similar things, she discovered that these three concepts were very different things for people in Europe over those time periods. Certainly they intersected with one another, but the ideologies around each was distinct. Dr. McNabb talks about the experience of hearing theologians and writers talk about these concepts over time periods. However, she notes that it is important to understand who is speaking on these topics, because many theologians who were writing their ideas had not experienced these things for themselves.

The early middle ages was not as well documented as the later time periods, and even when there was documentation it was primarily focused on the people with wealth and power. Through those documents, though, Dr. McNabb explains that readers can note patterns that indicate how the common culture would have interacted with these topics.

It was in this period that the church began to insert itself more heavily into the topics of marriage and sex. This was a way to integrate faith into the lives of everyday people and increase the role that the church played in people’s lives. Dr. McNabb gives a few interesting examples of how these laws and practices were put into place through specific instances which required the church’s discretion on the best way to handle a situation.

A few main things about marriage changed through these time periods. Earlier, marriage was much more of a process. It was not one ceremony that was easily witnessed, but rather took several steps to finally be considered married. One of the biggest questions was the purpose of marriage, and Dr. McNabb explains how the church looked to the marriage of Mary and Joseph as an example of what marriage should be. Sometimes, due to the marital language used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church, these definitions were disputed and could get muddled. Protestant churches were the first to allow for divorce with the chance to remarry, which drew many concerns about how this would impact how society would view the sacrament of marriage.

Dr. McNabb compares the stories of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I to express how marriage was a focal point for the culture. Mary, Queen of Scots was known and gossiped about for the amount of marriages she had whereas Queen Elizabeth I was constantly being questioned about when she would marry. The marital status of both queens was politically and religiously influenced and also had political and religious repercussions.

Dr. McNabb is currently reading The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly as well as Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Professor Kooistra is reading Copper River by William Kent Krueger and Professor Peffley just finished Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and is now working through David Cressy’s Agnes Bowker’s Cat.

Thank you to Dr. Jennifer McNabb for joining the podcast again, and to Professor Sam Mulberry for producing it!

Episode 53: Josephine Butler

Professor Bernon Lee joins Professor Kooistra and Professor Peffley on the podcast to talk about Josephine Butler and her writings in the Victorian era. Dr. Lee is a professor in the Biblical and Theological studies department at Bethel, but has a particular interest in the laws and rituals in the first five books of the Torah. He describes the value he sees in learning about the cultural background of the day and how those practices and laws were followed.

When Professor Kooistra asked if he was more interested in literature about his content or history about his content, Dr. Lee acknowledged that he greatly appreciates ancient literature greatly. This is evident in his paper about Josephine Butler and her writings which occurred toward the end of the Victorian era.

Josephine Butler, as described by Dr. Lee is a very conscientious Christian but one who raises some questions about sexuality and gender in her day. Sexuality in the Victorian era was heavily constructed by gender and there were double standards for men and women. The way women were viewed as objects led to the idea that men were entitled to use women for their pleasure.

Butler writes about these topics in a way that is biblically rooted and depends heavily upon Jesus. She responds to the secular side of the world around her through a Christian lens and argues for morality from both genders. Though her writings would be considered fairly conservative today, many people back then were angered by the audacity of a woman who would challenge the patriarchy of the day.

Dr. Lee points out that Butler takes a very biblical stance towards sexuality, but also points out other places in the Bible where sex is seen as a good thing. Butler was not arguing for complete chastity, but was rather advocating for an egalitarian approach in terms of modesty and respect. Dr. Lee compares Judges 19 and Songs of Solomon as they are both passages in the Bible that address sexuality in very different ways.

Dr. Lee presents a picture of how the writings of Butler played into the bigger culture of the Victorian era. In her writings, she focused on equality of the genders but her themes are very Eurocentric as she followed the ideology that England had a duty to lead and teach the rest of the world.

When asked what text Dr. Lee would choose to enrich the Humanities curriculum, he explained why he believes that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is such a beneficial choice. This text has a lot of similar themes and tensions that can be seen in Josephine Butler’s work such as the imbalance of power between the genders and colonialism. Vampires, in the bigger picture, were very representative in the Victorian period of challenging the cultural norms. Professor Kooistra suggests the film “A Fool There Was” as a movie which portrays some of these themes.

Professor Lee is currently reading Dracula by Bram Stoker as well as Florence Nightingale by Catherine Reef. Professor Peffley is reading Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! along with James Joyce’s Ulysses and David Cressy’s Agnes Bowker’s Cat. Professor Kooistra is continuing to read Vagrants and Vagabonds: Poverty and Mobility in the Early American Republic by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan and has begun to read Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayer.

Thank you to Professor Lee for joining the podcast this week and to Professor Sam Mulberry for producing the podcast!

Episode 52: William Shakespeare

Dean of Academic Programs, Barrett Fisher, joins Professor Kooistra and Professor Peffley on the podcast to talk about the works of William Shakespeare. Students in Humanities II have read and performed either Henry V or Henry IV, Part I over interim. Between these two, Dr. Fisher gives a list of reasons for why he prefers Henry IV. The wider variety of themes, and the characters themselves (particularly Falstaff) present convincing evidence for why this Shakespeare play is more fun to perform and watch than Henry V.

Dr. Fisher shared his wide range of experience learning, teaching, and even performing Shakespeare. In his undergraduate program, the professor didn’t incorporate performance into teaching Shakespeare, but as Dr. Fisher moved into teaching and took some more classes, he discovered the joys of teaching Shakespeare through performances. After a brief acting stint for a class he took, Dr. Fisher explains how he enjoys seeing the characters and settings of plays performed in such a wide variety of ways.

Over interim, students will watch The Hollow Crown version of whichever play they are putting on. When asked about favorite movie adaptations, Dr. Fisher recommends Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight which is an adaptation of several Shakespearean plays with an emphasis on Falstaff.

If Dr. Fisher could choose a different play by Shakespeare for students to read and learn over Humanities II, he would select The Merchant of Venice. This play is controversial for some of the themes in it. There are themes of anti-semitism and racism present in the content of the play, but Dr. Fisher acknowledges that there are ways to teach the play so that there can be important conversations around these themes. However, there are also themes in this play of capitalism, feminism, and connections to classical literature that make this play one that is valuable to learn.

At the close of the podcast, the professors share what they have been reading for fun. Dr. Fisher is listening to the Blandings Castle series by P.G. Wodehouse and is reading Micheál Mac Liammóir’s diary, Put Money in Thy Purse. Professor Peffley is in a book club that is reading Catherine Elgin’s True Enough and she has just started Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! Professor Kooistra is reading Vagrants and Vagabonds: Poverty and Mobility in the Early American Republic by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan as well as Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers. She also mentions a book recommended by a Bethel librarian, Ola Larsmo’s Swede Hollow.

Thank you to Dr. Fisher for joining the podcast and to Professor Sam Mulberry for producing the podcast!

Another Trailer Competition: Jane Austen’s Persuasion

While one Humanities team has its students read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the other team assigns Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Regardless, professors enjoy asking students to work together on creative ventures. Thus, the return of the book trailer competition. We announced the overall winners in today’s Humanities lecture, but here are the names of the nominees (by Humanities section) and the fantastic trailers they created.

From Professor Hage’s Section:

Hannah Lees, Emma Ryks, and Essa St. George. Click here for the link to the trailer!

From Professor Russell’s Section:

Zach Owen, Signe Christensen, Peter Engelking, Jordan Becvar. Click here for the link to the trailer!

From Professor Ritchie’s Section:

Soraya Keiser, Annika Carr, Kaden Lamb. Click here for the link to the trailer!

From Professor Zalanga’s Section:

Josh Ponce, Ethan Sampson, Rissa Schuberg. Click here for the link to the trailer!

AND Callie Beck, Sam Derfus, Anna Heebsh. Click here for the link to the trailer!

The Big Winners:

As determined by our fine teaching assistants (Jenna Christensen, Duncan Harro, Maddie Gottschalk, and Abby Rockhill), the overall winners were from my (Professor Kooistra’s) section:

Aleia Durston and Elizabeth Gerken. Click here for the link to the trailer!

Congratulations to all on these enjoyable trailers!

Episode 51: Abelard and Heloise

Professor Rushika Hage joins this episode of the podcast to give a little bit of her background and to discuss how Humanities students might benefit from reading bits of the writings and letters of Abelard and Heloise.

To share a little bit about herself, Professor Hage describes stories of her childhood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where she learned how to prime a pump. She also shares that she spent the first five years of her life in the Netherlands, and explains the wonderful story of how her parents met and fell in love. One of the many interesting facts about Professor Hage is that she can speak and read “smatterings” of five languages other than English: Latin, Italian, French, German, and Spanish!

Professor Hage gives an overview of the story of Abelard and Heloise. In twelfth century Paris, there was an academic and philosophical revolution in how professors thought and taught at universities. Abelard was one of these professors who embraced the revolution, and became a popular professor who had students waiting outside of the lecture halls in hopes of hearing what he was going to say. Heloise, on the other hand, was an intelligent young woman who was educated and was interested in these new philosophies.

Her uncle invited Abelard to tutor Heloise in exchange for room and board, and one thing led to another and Abelard and Heloise fell in love and had a child named Astrolabe, and were secretly married. When her uncle found this out, he sent people to castrate and harm Abelard. Ultimately, the two of them ended up at separate monasteries with Abelard’s sister raising their son.

Professor Hage suggests that Humanities students should read the letters that Heloise and Abelard exchange after they are separated, because it shows a more well-rounded picture of people in medieval times. Especially in regards to women, both Julian of Norwich and Heloise present very different pictures of how women were treated and educated. Professor Peffley points out that Hildegard of Bingen is also a key example of an educated woman from the medieval times.

After sharing a bit about her dissertation that she is writing now, Professor Hage mentions that she has just finished reading The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow as well as Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. Professor Peffley is reading Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett and is beginning Agnes Bowker’s Cat by David Cressy. Professor Kooistra is currently reading Vagrants and Vagabonds: Poverty and Mobility in the Early American Republic by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan and William Kent Krueger’s Purgatory Ridge.

Thank you to Professor Hage for joining the podcast this week, and to Professor Sam Mulberry for producing the podcast!