I’m a retired professor of English literature and literary theory. My BA and MA were from the University of Washington in history and English; my PhD was from Harvard University in 1975. I taught at Washington State University and then for 25 years at Seattle Pacific University; during the last five of those years I directed the undergraduate honors program and the senior honors seminar in Science and Faith (which was preceded by a rigorous course in physics, in which the humanities majors had to learn and use the formulas like everyone else – I am very proud of that and of them).
I retired at 55, following (as I thought) a call to spend as much time reading, thinking, writing, and contemplating as it took to find my voice and bring my thinking to a place from which I could offer something to the public conversation and to the larger on-going life of the human mind and spirit. (For my former students, yes I do have a grown son named Caleb, who is doing well, and some of you will recognize me by another last name from my early days of teaching, when I was Janet Knedlik.)
My academic fields were first, Renaissance and Seventeenth Century literature, and as a result, Greek and Latin language and Greek and medieval literature and philosophy. But my greatest love is philosophy – especially literary theory – and pondering the progression of cultural thought-worlds that constitute the history of the West. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the fulcrum of Western history, dividing it into the pre-modern and the modern West. I am also fascinated by the epistemological deconstruction of “modernity” in the twentieth century and by the potential for integrative thought that has given us in our own postmodern moment.
Finally, I was raised by thoughtful academic parents in an impressive university community – I had all the advantages liberalism and agnosticism could give to a child (which were considerable) – but I deeply disappointed my mother by converting to Christianity. (I hold the earlier West, by the way, entirely responsible for this aberration.) I never stopped being a political progressive, however, and I have found plenty of company among many, many thoughtful individual Christians and denominations worldwide. But I have always felt frustrated in offering my own philosophical integrations to a wider audience, because my being a theist enters into them, and speaking from an academic discipline and as a theist raises problems.
Yet I am very uncomfortable with simply making narrow, specialized addresses to small but expert academic readerships, when those are not the most important arguments to attempt. I have always thought that theists could press certain issues in contemporary theory very effectively and fruitfully, if theists as such were allowed to enter the conversation and could be heard.
Perhaps I was wrong to be so hesitant, but it seems to me that bringing ourselves as persons in our core identities into our presentations as thinkers is highly problematic for us in North America today. Academia has corralled the life of the mind and sent it racing down the various chutes provided for all of us (different kinds of critters that we are), in our various specialized disciplines. We do become more and more proficient and even profound as knowers within those disciplines – no doubt of that. But philosophers are pesky, like poets and prophets are, in always wanting to return again to the very beginnings and start all over again. And in always wanting to talk to everyone, and to do it on an existential level.
I still don’t know how to accomplish this, speaking as a theist and in my discipline of literary theory at the same time in the public sphere, even after five years in retirement pondering it and trying to write it different ways. I am highly aware of the risks and difficulties, speaking integratively on so many levels at once and to so many different audiences at once. But here goes, anyway.