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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook/Personal: A Great Classroom Day and Conclusion 
22nd-Sep-2010 11:56 pm
October 2009 Haircut
Kind of been riding a buzz all evening. I had a great day of teaching today. It wasn't that any single event was particularly spectacular, but rather that the levels of student discussion were just first-rate and compelling through all my courses. (Except, perhaps for the last five or ten minutes of my last course, where things started to drag a bit, but that's probably more to the class finishing at 6:05pm than anything else.) Looking back at the day, I'm really just kind of proud of all the students.

The Catholicism class was discussing the nature of the Bible and its role in Catholic theology, off of the reading on that material from Gregory Higgin's Christianity 101: A Textbook of Catholic Theology. More creatively, my class on Jesus was finishing their reading of the Gospels with a comparative look at the four Gospels on Jesus's teaching and ministry. Leading into a more collegiate discussion of the character or personality of Jesus as it comes through in the Gospels, I began with a rather grade school-sounding request for each of the students to take a turn telling what story of Jesus they had found struck them the most out of the reading assignment, and to explain why it did so. The variety of texts and of reasons was really compelling, and it served to construct in-class the sort of broad "sketch" of Jesus I could use for the more advanced questions regarding his character, and then toward the end of the session regarding his ethical teaching, as a whole.

I even had a few new thoughts or pictures given to me, particularly from one girl's reflection on the emotional experience Jesus was having in the scene where he mourned over Jerusalem. That might sound kind of cocky, but it's just a "professional vs. beginner" contrast: I've just spend so many years on this material that it's striking to me when an undergraduate raises a question or a perspective I haven't already worked through myself. But somehow, despite the obvious fact of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, the utter discouragement of a man who maybe sees all his efforts as having had little apparent impact was a new angle or vision of this moment for me. So that sort of thing got me kind of especially pleased.

The day ended with the also-pleasant experience of grabbing dinner at the new La Divinia Gelateria location on campus with my colleague Mari, who is the other Visiting Assistant Professor in the department this year. She's a Jewish studies scholar from the University of Chicago, and is a whirlwind of fun. So we got to know a little bit more about one another's backgrounds while discovering the good and inexpensive Panini after I was made acquainted with Mari's philosophical objections to any restaurants with entrees approaching the $30 mark (which came up since I had suggested exploring the highly-regarded Gautreau's Restaurant in my neighbourhood). Another time....
23rd-Sep-2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
Heh, I just read this, having posted an entry this morning asking if people could recommend me some good introductory works on both the broad scope of Catholic theology and contemporary Catholic thought. Since you actually teach this kind of mateiral, what books would you recommend?
24th-Sep-2010 03:00 am (UTC)
Heh. In a way, I almost feel more reluctant to give a recommendation, since I'm a "professional" and since there are several texts that I've not read, but only glanced through, and knowing that there's more than those. I picked this one I'm teaching for my Catholicism class (Gregory Higgin's Christianity 101: A Textbook of Catholic Theology) because it seemed geared toward the serious undergraduate (no pop-up pictures), and, historian that I am, the author addressed all the topics with a consistent pattern of doing an historical survey in each chapter. Catholicism has so much development in each aspect that that is necessary, and it seemed to be written in such a way as to be easily digestible for a first-time student. I also gave serious consideration to Lawrence Cunningham's An Introduction to Catholicism (quite dense), and to Gerald O'Collins, S.J.'s Catholicism: The Story of Catholic Christianity. I found that O'Collins's contribution to the Oxford "Very Short Introduction series, Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction was a pretty straight condensation of his larger text, and so I used that in my class, prior to the Higgins reading, as a way of giving my students a quick overview to the whole of the Catholic picture, so that we could discuss the individual parts with the students having some familiarity with the larger context.

But is it really this sort of text you are seeking? Now as I look at your words "both the broad scope of Catholic theology and contemporary Catholic thought," it strikes me that you could be thinking in more specifically or "professionally" theological terms (as though you were maybe more looking for something like the two-volume, multi-author Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives) or "Catholic thought" that reaches beyond theology, strictly speaking. Does any of this look right, topically or level-wise, or can you be more specific?
24th-Sep-2010 03:07 am (UTC)
Hmm, well I suppose I am looking for both, but perhaps more of the latter "systematic theology." I don't have a really formed idea, but I've read a fair amount of the introductory or classic texts on Eastern Christianity - The Orthodox Way, the Orthodox Church, For the Life of the World, etc, and was wondering if there were any Catholic "equivalents"? I was also curious to actually read some JP II's work on things like theology of the body, but wanted to get a more complete perspective on Catholic theology first.
24th-Sep-2010 03:24 am (UTC)
Okay. Then howzabout you scout what I've listed here (taking advantage of the Harvard libraries), and see whether or not any of these look to do the trick. If not, we can refine from what you see in these, and your increased sense of direction from making those judgments. I passed on Cunningham (who I know as a very good scholar of the history of Christian/Catholic theology and spirituality from my time at Notre Dame) because the text would have pushed undergrads over the edge, I suspected, by being not quite for a beginner, and small-enough a font that it would have started to visually feel like a 300-page footnote. He doesn't do the chapter-by-chapter rounds of topical developments in Ancient, Medieval, Reformation, Modern, and Postmodern eras that Higgins does, because I think he already assumes a certain educational development in the reader, despite the "Introduction" of the title. That said, it's wonderfully learned, from an author with a particular eye for how a faith is lived in a particular time or place, which might especially appeal to you.

Or I might have misjudged all of this. Take a look and let me know what you think.
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