Written by Stacy Roibal // Photo by Balazs Balassa
Dr. Jason Jewell is the department chair of humanities and the director of the Center for Great Books and Human Flourishing at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. He is a fellow with the American Studies Institute here on the Harding campus this semester.
Q: My first question is — what is a fellow?
A: A fellow is a generic title that a lot of organizations give to people who don’t work for them full-time but have some kind of association with them. Those are people who will come in occasionally and give a talk or be on hand to do interviews and that sort of thing.
Q: What brings you to campus this semester? What are you doing while you are here?
A: What specifically has brought me to Harding this semester is my parents. They were faculty here for 40 years and retired here. Last fall, my father started undergoing cancer treatments, so I worked things out with the administration here to where I could come up and be on campus. I am still working for Faulkner and teaching remotely, but I wanted to be here so I could help my mother take care of my father while he was going through cancer treatments. Well, unfortunately, dad died in January, so now we had already made all these arrangements to be here this spring, so we decided to follow through on that and just be here to help my mother. I am helping Dr. Duke with some things related to the American Studies Institute. I’m also leading some reading groups for students. … I’ll be doing eight of those sessions throughout the semester. There are two different groups of students meeting four times each and reading through some books and documents that are relevant to ASI’s mission. I help out with whatever Dr. Duke asks me to help out with — it’s kind of informal.
Q: You attended Harding for your bachelor’s degree? What have you enjoyed about being on Harding’s campus now compared to your experience being here as a student?
A: I graduated from Harding in 1995, and since I moved away from Searcy in 1998, I have not been on campus much until this semester. It has been really nice to see the campus life today and to reconnect with people who I knew when we were students who are now working on campus, people that I had not seen for 25 years or more, so that’s been really nice, and to get familiar again with the campus and see where the new buildings are. It seems like there’s a lot more student-led activity on campus now than there was when I was a student, which is great. There are a handful of professors who are still teaching from when I was a student, so I’ve been able to see some of those folks and reconnect with them. So just being able to see people that I hadn’t seen in many years and then get familiar with campus life again has been a lot of fun.
Q: Can you tell me about the Great Books program? And is that related to the reading groups that you’re doing here on campus?
A: There is a connection between Great Books and the reading groups. At Faulkner, we have an undergraduate honors program like Harding does, but it looks a little different. The Honors program at Faulkner is a Great Books program, and that started about 20 years ago, before I became a professor there. It’s grounded in the Great Books of the Western World series. When the editors of that series put it together first in the ’50s and then they did an updated version of it in the ’90s, the idea was to try to identify what they called the “great ideas” that have been really prominent in our civilization and then identify the works that made important contributions and understanding to those ideas. God is one of the great ideas, love is one of them, war and peace is one. Most of my work is with graduate students, and I direct online masters and Ph.D. programs. We have students in our programs who are full-time ministers, attorneys, teachers — people from different walks of life who just want to study the great books in a structured environment.
Q: What would you say you are pursuing through all your different avenues? What are you most passionate about and what makes all of this worth it?
A: My goal has always been for my own teaching and scholarship to be of benefit to the church somehow, so I want to glorify God with the work that I do, and I want to be able to help develop Christian minds. I try to think about how Christianity relates to culture and to society. What does the church have to say to society about how people should live, and how within the church can we deepen our understanding of what God wants us to be? That’s what I try to do with my writing and with my teaching. I’m kind of all over the place with the topics I write about. My Ph.D. is in interdisciplinary humanities because I could never decide on one thing to study. I was always here, there and everywhere, so I try to see where the opportunities are to write and to bring a Christian perspective.
Q: I’m taking a gamble here, but it sounds to me like you’ve read a lot of books — what book would you say is a book you think everybody should read?
A: Augustine’s “The City of God.” It’s a very long work that’s kind of challenging, but it’s one of the most important statements about how the church should interact with the rest of society, and that’s from the fifth century.
Q: How many books did you read last year?
A: Last year I read 75 books. I keep track on Goodreads.
Q: Is there any message you would like to add for my readers?
A: I would add that Harding has always had a very special place in my heart, of course. I grew up here since my parents were on the faculty, and I did my bachelor’s degree here, and it’s been a real pleasure to be back here in Searcy for a few months and be able to reconnect. A lot of students say they don’t think they’re going to miss it before they graduate, and then when they go away somewhere else they wind up missing it. I think that’s really true, so enjoy it while you’re here.