Excellence and ethics frame the work that defines Dr. Lucy Schultz, Dr. Jane Webster, and Dr. Rodney Werline, professors in the Religion and Philosophy Program. They balance a full teaching schedule with an often-hectic scholarly writing/presentation/publication agenda. Yet, it is that delicate balancing act that stimulates their bold thinking and creativity in the classroom and in their writing. Their teaching and writing experiences are often intertwined, and the important work these scholars do, both inside and outside the classroom, gives meaning to their lives.
Dr. Schultz knew philosophy was her passion as she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy with a Minor in Art at Luther College. From there, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Oregon. Her dissertation “Creative Climate: East-West Perspectives on Art, Nature, and the Expressive Body” reflects her experience as a Researcher in Residence at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010. She has published several peer-reviewed journal articles and a book review, as well as delivering a wide variety of refereed and invited conference presentations. In her first year at Barton as an assistant professor of philosophy, Dr. Schultz is already making a significant impact on campus. She is currently working on a project on climate change examining ways humans and nature have been understood in relation to each other throughout history. In particular, Dr. Schultz is analyzing the hierarchy of Spirit over nature in G.W.F. Hegel’s philosophy of history in contrast with the ways nature and culture are conceived in the works of the modern Japanese philosophers Nishida and Watsuji.
Dr. Webster’s professional career began as a registered nurse. Her missionary work as a nurse and Christian education instructor in Paraguay led her to pursue a Bachelor in Theology degree with great distinction and first class honors from McGill University. She continued her studies, earning a Master of Arts degree and her Ph.D. in Religious Studies at McMaster University. Dr. Webster is fluent in the Spanish and French languages as well as Koine Greek, and she has an excellent command of the Hebrew, German, and Latin languages. She has authored or edited five books: “Ingesting Jesus: Eating and Drinking in the Gospel of John” (2003); two volumes of “Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom” (2012 and 2015); “Understanding Bible by Design” (2014); and “Lady Parts: Biblical Women and The Vagina Monologues” (2012), a collection of narratives inspired by the renowned play. She also has written numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and made numerous presentations at professional conferences. In 2015, Dr. Webster was just one of 26 faculty scholars from across the country invited to take part in the five-day 2015 Seminar on Teaching Interfaith Understanding in Chicago in 2015. She is an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature and a past co-chair of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Committee for the Status of Women in the Profession. A professor of religion and philosophy, she has served on the Barton faculty since 2000. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Dr. Webster serves as director for the new Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
Prior to his joining the Barton faculty, Dr. Werline served as senior minister of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Greensboro while also teaching part time at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And, he continues to fill the pulpit by invitation throughout the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Carolina Region. Yet, throughout his professional career, Dr. Werline has maintained a strong focus on teaching, research, and publishing. Since 2011, he has served as the series editor for “Early Judaism and Its Literature” (Society of Biblical Literature Press). He is the author of two books including “Pray Like This: Understanding Prayer in the Bible,” and co-editor of seven books, the most recent being the 2016 release of “The Bible in Political Debate: What Does It Really Say?” He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at Kentucky Christian College and earned a Master of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Religion at The University of Iowa. Dr. Werline is proficient in six languages including: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Ethiopic, French, and German. He also has a working knowledge of Syriac and Latin. As an expert in early Judaism and early Christianity, as well as religious experience and ritual theory, Dr. Werline has delivered a number of conference presentations across the United States and abroad. And, he has served as a Researcher in Residence at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He also is an active member in the Society of Biblical Literature. Dr. Werline joined the Barton faculty in 2007 when he was named the Leman and Marie Barnhill Endowed Chair in Religious Studies. In addition, he also serves as director of the Center for Religious Studies on campus.
These three esteemed professors follow in a long line of distinguished religion and philosophy scholars who have served on the faculty at Barton College and earlier at Atlantic Christian College.
When asked how their academic work in religion and philosophy affects their thought, their disciplines, and the broader world, and how it helps to shape their insight of the world’s challenges, these three scholars offered distinctive points of view.
1. Where does the scholarly/intellectual work you are most passionate about impact society most directly or significantly?
Schultz: As a philosopher, I think about the human condition, the possibility of knowledge, and the wonders of the cosmos everyday. I dwell on difficult questions and ponder beauty. This philosophical mentality—asking perennial questions and studying the different answers people have offered to them in different times and places—is my intellectual work. In my teaching, I share this mentality with my students and invite them to inhabit it with me for awhile. The impact I have on students is probably the biggest impact I have on society. In terms of my scholarship, my current work takes up issues pertaining to nature and the environment. I feel a sense of urgency to share that intellectual work at conferences and through publications. I’m not sure how much impact that has on the world, but my hope is that it does.
Webster: My scholarly work currently focuses on two main areas. The first is the role of religious studies in defining and shaping the spiritual identity and nature of women. More recently, I have focused on interfaith understanding: why should we encourage it, what does it look like, how do we teach it, and how do we assess it. When most of our students will be working and possibly living in the global arena, it is critical that they can interact across cultures with grace and intelligence.
Werline: The recent book that I co-edited, “The Bible in Political Debate: What Does it Really Say?” has probably had the most direct relationship with the largest audience of any work that I have done. As a review of the book stated, the essays in the book fact-check politicians on their use of the Bible. As one would guess, they generally do a fairly bad job when using it. But my longer career in scholarship has had a few different larger aspirations. First—to make some contribution to Jewish-Christian relations by studying early Jewish texts. Second—to remind the scholarly world that religion is part of the everyday lives of real people, and not just a collection of ideas and literary forms. I don’t think that we will be able to understand the place of religion in our world, or the ancient world, until we understand that basic reality.
2. How has the scholarly/intellectual work you do impacted your life most significantly or directly?
Schultz: Following up on the philosophical mentality described above, I would say that the intellectual work I do defines who I am. Philosophy is not just my job; it shapes my life in its entirety. Sometimes being awake to the world and asking difficult questions creates stress and sadness, but it is also inspiring and motivating. On a different note, being a professional philosopher has impacted my life in numerous practical ways. As I’ve pursued my degrees and won jobs, I have had to move quite frequently. Within the last decade or so, I’ve moved from New York to Oregon to Texas, and, now, to North Carolina. It’s been an adventure! I’ve enjoyed getting to know these vastly different parts of our country, but it’s also created some hardships. But I love what I am doing enough that the sacrifices have been worth it.
Webster: My scholarly work has arisen out of the challenges I faced as a woman serving in the evangelical church. My research and writing have given me the opportunity to explore the religious female in dialogue with others, and, as a result, I have made significant changes in my own religious and spiritual practices.
Werline: On a personal level, even after over 35 years of either being a student, minister or professor, when I get up each day, I am still as fascinated as ever by the study of biblical and early Jewish texts. Secondly, my collaborative scholarly work has also produced many wonderful friends and colleagues in North America, Europe, and Israel. They bring me such joy and happiness, and are truly a grace in my life.
3. What current trend/s in our society causes you the most concern, especially in light of your studies and research?
Schultz: I am most concerned about climate change and the disappearance of natural habitats and the other plants and animals we share the planet with. I think about climate change everyday and struggle with the ethical challenges it presents. I am also concerned about the disconnection and lack of productive dialogue within American culture. As a nation, we don’t share a common set of basic truths about the world around us (like whether or not climate change is real, for example), and we don’t have venues to come together and share our perspectives. Social media hasn’t shown itself to be an adequate forum for genuine dialogue.
Webster: As the recent political debates clearly show, sexist attitudes continue to prevail and feed gender inequality and abuse. As many of our foundations for gender are shaped by our religious understanding, we still have work to do. Likewise, religious intolerance and conflict is based on fear and ignorance; learning about other religions is the first step to resolving these tensions.
Werline: I am especially concerned about the growing nationalism and xenophobia in the U.S. and western Europe. My European friends are quite concerned as well.
4. What current trend/s in our society give you the most hope, especially in light of your studies and research?
Schultz: The open mindedness of young people gives me hope. The crossing of cultures and interest in learning about folks who come from different faiths and other backgrounds is very exciting to me. Working with bright, enthusiastic students fuels my passion for the work that I do.
Webster: More and more people are challenging religious traditions that no longer have meaning nor serve their communities. As a result, many seek different expressions of spirituality. And, any time people ask themselves why they are doing something, they often live more respectful, intentional, and informed lives. This includes developing healthier attitudes towards other people.
Werline: I remain hopeful because I think that younger people are more open and accepting of others than the older generations and the generation now in power. So, they are the antidote to the nationalism, xenophobia, bigotry, and racism that I mentioned above.