globeFaith Matters

Lectureship shares Calvin’s approach to Christian scholarship

By Lynn Bolt Rosendale '85

Sending a professor to lecture around the globe for a year might not immediately seem like a good way to strengthen teaching at Calvin; however, those who have done it certainly can make a strong case for it.

“We come back bigger thinkers than when we left,” said communication arts and sciences professor Helen Sterk, who recently also held the title of Calvin Worldview Lecturer. “You’re challenged to consider how culture-specific your ideas are.”

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Such was the case for Sterk, who spoke in Korea, among other places, about her gender and care research. “They were very gracious to me even though I knew that some of what I was saying was shocking and disturbing to them,” she said. “I’m sure some of my translators were speaking feminist terms that they had never said before.”

The Calvin Worldview Lectureship began 10 years ago after Calvin philosophy professor Lee Hardy had spent time lecturing at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland and had invited some of his colleagues to do the same. “I thought that we could make something of an expanded program of this,” Hardy said. “Calvin was then fashioning itself as a center for Christian scholarship.”

He suggested that “Calvin should not only be a center ‘to which’ scholars come, but also a center ‘from which’ scholars go to share their research.”

The idea struck a chord with Calvin and the Christian Reformed Church Home Missions campus ministries, which jointly support the endeavor.

“It was pretty evident that Calvin has the faculty who can speak to a university audience,” said Janel Curry, Calvin dean for research and scholarship. “This gives them a chance to do it with academic credibility and from a Christian perspective.”

Each academic year a lecturer is appointed with the goal of speaking at secular universities on current topics from a faith-based viewpoint. The lecturers are invited by campus chaplains and through other connections the individuals may have with other universities.

Audiences can vary from mostly secular to mostly religious and from graduate students to community members.

“What we are doing is creating a space for the Christian imagination in the secular academy,” said Curry. “We’re getting the chance to talk to graduate students and faculty in places where Christians had never been before.”

And the reception has been welcoming. “People are expecting rigidity when instead we come from a position of care and flexibility,” said Sterk. “I think that there is also some surprise that Christian scholars can do research that stands up to anybody. It’s not second-tier; it’s first-tier.”

Certainly, the perception of Christian scholarship as being second-rate is one of the notions this program is working to dispel.

“Calvin is not a place that takes intellectual pursuits lightly,” said Curry. “Calvin’s scholars have more depth to their questioning and understanding of how their faith shapes their thought. This is what we’re supposed to be good at at Calvin College. Why should we keep it to ourselves?”

Curry knows of no other institution that offers such an extensive lecture program free to host institutions. “What a gift this is to other institutions,” added Sterk.

Besides the exchange being mutually beneficial to both the professor and the host institution, the program also provides another advantage to Calvin: It helps boosts the college’s academic reputation, which is good for faculty and students alike.

“The program addresses the problem of Calvin being one of the best-kept secrets in the academic world,” said Hardy. “It gives Calvin a chance to showcase some of its best scholars doing some of their most interesting work on an international stage.” 

Lynn Rosendale is the managing editor of Spark.

Previous Calvin Worldview Lecturers
1999–2000 John Hare Does Morality Need God?
2000–2001 Susan Felch God and the Embarrassment of Meanings
2001–2002 David Van Baak Purpose, Teleology and the Laws of Physics
2002–2003 Kurt Schaefer American Poverty Policy: Concerns about the Nature of Persons in a Good Society
2003–2004 Mark Fackler Finding Hope in Virtuous Communication
2004–2005 Del Ratzsch Philosophy of Science
2005–2006 Ron Wells History, Memory and Hope
2006–2007 Helen Sterk Can We Afford Postfeminism?
2007–2008 Daniel Bays Living with China in the 21st Century
2008–2009 Otto Selles Tolerance’s Boundaries