The Junior Distinguished Faculty Award is given to an assistant or associate professor. One of the great pleasures of my job is listening to stories of faculty travels, both literal ventures and journeys of the mind. In many cases, I associate faculty members with places where they have been born and raised, places where they have lived and taught, or places that have captured their imaginations. One of my other pleasures is writing a few sentences, like this one, that don’t really give you any clues about the recipient of the award and keep you guessing a little longer.
So how about this? I will mention a few place names I associate with the life and work of this year’s award winner and see how soon you can solve the riddle. Wenham, Massachusetts. Oxford. Cambridge. Indiana. The underworld, or Screwtape’s version of hell. Alabama. Virginia. Jerusalem. And Athens.
One of the brightest of the nation’s young evangelical historians, this year’s award recipient has published books on nineteenth-century religious and intellectual history with both Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. After his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama, he completed his doctorate at the University of Virginia, eventually earning an appointment as a prestigious Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
Since his arrival in Wenham at Gordon College in 1999 he has won a research fellowship as a Pew Evangelical Scholar and has served for a year as a Senior Faculty Fellow in Notre Dame’s illustrious Erasmus Institute. Two years ago he was the primary author of Gordon’s successful two-million-dollar grant proposal to the Lilly Endowment in Indiana. In the past year he has chaired the task for overseeing the wide range of activities sponsored by this grant in Christian vocation. One of those is the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, an honors program that he teaches, a year-long seminar exploring the rich, 2000-year history of Christian thought and literature. Rather than becoming simply a seminar for elite students, this Forum has sponsored numerous events that have invigorated the ideas flowing around campus. Thanks to the work of the Forum, there has been more than one occasion when a full house of students has gathered to hear faculty exchange divergent views, debating such issues as the morality of the free market and the nature of evil. In our fall honors Convocation, he cleverly adopted the persona of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape to admonish us to consider how sloppy and negligent thinking deplete the soul of a Christian institution. He consistently inspires students to pursue graduate study and challenges us all to embrace vigorous scholarly work as a vital form of Christian witness and calling.
For his efforts to help us better understand our Christian past and to prompt us to think more boldly about the future of the evangelical mind, I am pleased to present this year’s Junior Distinguished Faculty Award to associate professor of history Dr. Tal Howard.