Two Baylor University Faculty Awarded NEH Grant to Support Summer Institute for Secondary Educators

October 27, 2022

Todd Buras, Ph.D., Department Chair and Associate Professor of Philosophy in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Phil Donnelly, Ph.D., Director of the Great Texts Program and Professor of Literature in the Honors College, have received a $189,999 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to build on the success of their 2021 summer seminar titled Disputatio and the Pursuit of Wisdom in the Humanities.

Buras and Donnelly will use the funds to host a two-week, fully residential summer institute at Baylor University in 2023 for 25 high school humanities teachers to explore the disputatio, or the disputed question. The grant also supports the leadership of Angel Adams Parham, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, as a co-director, adding to the program Dr. Parham’s expertise in the comparative-historical sociology of race.

“Our goal is to help as many educators as possible share the joy of pursuing wisdom questions together and learn how to use this tested approach to wisdom questions in a helpful and balanced way,” Donnelly said. “What we have seen from last year’s seminar is that when teachers are engaging living questions in their teaching material, it comes alive for them, and their students can tell.”

The central rationale for the institute is to invigorate teaching across the humanities by recovering, analyzing, and mastering a form of inquiry that empowers the pursuit of wisdom across the humanities. Participants who attend the institute will experience seminar-style classes focused on primary texts that give rise to the disputed question genre as well as working on projects to help them apply the concepts.

“At the heart of Illuminate is a desire for the light of Christ to illumine understanding of ourselves and our world, and thereby draw us into the wisdom of God,” said Honors College Dean Douglas Henry, Ph.D. “Phil and Todd’s NEH grant brings new resources to this human quest for wisdom, and it marshals those resources to support high school humanities teachers who will help new generations of students think with rigor and depth. Through their commitment and initiative, much good will come through their grant and the many multiplied lives their leadership will ultimately impact.”

According to Buras and Donnelly, the grant will allow the team to expand upon the previous seminar by increasing the number of participants and lecturers as well as moving the program from a virtual to residential model.

“We are so grateful to the NEH and Baylor University for giving us a chance to contribute to renewal in humanities education,” Buras said. “So many of our deepest social challenges involve disputes about wisdom questions, the heart of the humanities. So few schools are equipped to dedicate a philosophy class to these questions. But teachers can equip students to pursue disciplined answers to wisdom questions as they arise in other classes. Our hope with the continuation of this project is to help teachers from across the humanities do just that. It is a delight to be a part of such an effort.”

Buras and Donnelly’s grant was one of 226 announced earlier this fall by the NEH totaling $31.5 million to support humanities projects nationwide.

“Through summer institutes and workshops, the NEH will provide professional development opportunities for K-12 educators and higher ed faculty,” NEH executive director Stephen Kidd said. “We are immensely proud of the NEH’s impact across the U.S. and will continue advocating for increased federal support for future grants in 2022 and beyond.”

According to College of Arts and Sciences Dean Lee Nordt, Ph.D., this grant highlights the important work happening within the humanities at Baylor.

“The recent NEH funding received by Dr. Buras and Dr. Donnelly is an example of our humanities departments in the College of Arts & Sciences becoming part of important national conversations,” Nordt said. “Receiving federal funding is often considered to be the ‘gold standard,' meaning that your proposed ideas have out-competed considerable competition. This is an opportunity for our faculty to weigh in on what we believe to be the tenets of a humanities education.”

Applications for Disputatio and the Pursuit of Wisdom in the Humanities will be available in Spring 2023.