Dean's Update - January 16, 2024

January 16, 2024

Dear Colleagues:

Recently, I’ve benefitted from a reading group discussing Vincent Lloyd’s Religion of the Field Negro: On Black Secularism and Black Theology. My attendance is marred by conflicts with other meetings, but when able, I’ve learned much from exploring the book with Barry Harvey, Jenny Howell, Wemimo Jaiyesimi, Steve Reid, Christopher Richmann, and others.

Vincent visited us last fall to give the Drumwright Family Lecture, Pursuing Justice in Toxic Times. Religion of the Field Negro takes his arguments deeper, as in claims such as these:

"Black theology has been too modest. . . . The reason black theology has become so modest is secularism. Secularism confines theology to the status of one among many disciplines, and secularism makes theology’s hold even on that diminished status tenuous."

"Theology means speaking rightly and rigorously about God. . . . [W]hat theology can succeed in saying, rightly and rigorously, is what God is not. Theology can expose idols as idols, showing how concepts, practices, feelings, and images that purport to be divine are really made by humans, advancing human interests in the name of the divine."

"[T]heology can hold up examples from those sites where God is most likely to be found. . . . These are sites where the violence and tragedy of the world demystify idols, where the world’s hubristic aspirations to omniscience and omni-benevolence are greeted with scorn. Theology can hold up the wisdom of the weakest, the most marginal, and the most afflicted."

"Blackness names the position of the weakest, the most marginal, and the most afflicted; blackness also names a specific group of people who are the weakest, the most marginal, and the most afflicted here and now, in the twenty-first century United States of America. Neither sense of blackness has to do with skin color."

"When paradox and tradition, sainthood and messianism, hope and love, and most of all blackness and theology are understood . . . , how are we to live together?"

With yesterday’s MLK Day in mind—and acknowledging continuities of Vincent’s work with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vital Christian faith—I encourage our reflection on the claims above. What is the role of Christian theology in our academic disciplines and life? How might we resist academe’s penchant for marginalizing theology? What does that look like? And yes, how are we to live together, not least of all in country still divided by race? Thanks to MLK Jr., Vincent, and so many others for keeping such questions alive—and insisting that we ask them with an eye upon the cross of Christ.

In these opening days of 2024, here are some news items and opportunities to start us off well:

• Each year, Provost Nancy Brickhouse identifies annual goals for the Honors College around which I rally effort. Grant-related research goals are among them. Midway through the academic year, we’ve more than doubled our research expenditure stretch goal, met our proposal submission goal, and exceeded 90% of our goal for research dollars awarded. Keep up the great work! Jonathan Tran, associate dean for faculty, joins me and Carissa White, our university research administrator (URA), in supporting your exploration of grant-funded research opportunities.

• Gratitude and mutual respect call us to honor each other. To this end, nominations remain open for Outstanding Professor Awards, with a January 26 deadline for submission using this form. Our college-level committee, comprised of Phillip Donnelly, Lynne Hinojosa, and Chuck McDaniel, will adjudicate and advance Honors College nominees for University-level consideration. Complete guidelines are available here. Please give the faculty you most admire the generosity and time of your nominations.

• Likewise, nominations for Outstanding Staff Awards are open through February 1. University guidelines and an online nomination form are available here. As with our faculty, we have exceedingly capable staff colleagues whose vision, dedication, and selfless leadership and service enable our academic community to thrive. Let’s exercise abundant effort in acknowledging them in the current nomination process.

• During upcoming annual review meetings, tenured faculty members interested in promotion to the rank of Professor should consult with their program director. A new cycle of application and review begins with a February 15deadline to submit a letter of intent to seek promotion and the names of possible external reviewers. Details are available in BU-PP 702, related Promotion Procedures, and our Guidelines for Promotion.

• Join me in welcoming Justin King, new senior academic advisor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. No stranger to our academic community, he has supported the BIC in temporary teaching and advising roles since 2016. Holding a BA in religion from Oklahoma Baptist University, an MA in religion from the U of Chicago, and a PhD in religion from Baylor, Justin brings a scholar’s eye and teacher’s heart to advising. Welcome, Justin!

• Congratulations to Davide Zori, associate professor of history in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, on publication of Age of Wolf and Wind: Voyages through the Viking World (Oxford UP, 2024). Called “a fresh and enlightening account” by “an outstanding historian . . . [and] accomplished archaeologist,” Davide’s book is lauded as “highly readable and always interesting” and “a research-informed account of a vivid age of conquest of both land and sea.” Well done, Davide!

• Congratulations as well to David Jeffrey, emeritus distinguished professor of literature and the humanities in the Honors Program, on publication of Art Seeking Understanding (Baylor UP, 2024), co-edited with former philosophy colleague Bob Roberts. Featuring chapters by Phillip Donnelly, professor of literature (Great Texts), Barry Harvey, professor of theology (Great Texts), Thomas Hibbs, dean emeritus (Honors College), and other Baylor faculty, the book receives high praise for its “approach to the arts as a form of theological understanding,” “deep scholarly insights,” and “rich contribution to our understanding of how art serves God as we both make it and enjoy it.” Well done, colleagues!

All the best,

Douglas V. Henry, Ph.D. | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University | 254.710.7689