Dr. Milton Horne, professor of religion, is retiring after 32 years of teaching at William Jewell College. Horne came to Jewell in 1986 and has never taught anywhere else.
Horne had originally planned to be a pastor and attended seminary school at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. At seminary, his fascination with religion began.
“I became interested in religion as a phenomenon to study in seminary, mostly from reading Peter Berger’s book, ‘The Sacred Canopy’ (I would go on and rely heavily upon this book, and his ‘The Social Construction of Reality,’ in my doctoral dissertation.) I was fascinated with Berger’s conception of anomy, alienation and false consciousness as it related to another book I read in my undergraduate career at Univ. of Missouri, Columbia (after I left Indiana University): Erving Goffman’s, ‘The Presentation in Everyday Life,'” Horne said.
Seminary caused Horne to have more questions, which led to him completing his doctorate at the University of Oxford.
“I went to seminary to get questions answered. Instead, I read Berger—while also learning that the meaning of the Bible’s story was up for interpretative grabs—and only struggled with more questions. So, I went from there to Oxford to write a dissertation on the book of Job, suffering, false consciousness, and Goffman’s notion of the front stage and back stage of our lives.”
Upon completing his dissertation, Horne’s mentor recommended he apply for a teaching position at Jewell. Even though Horne submitted his application late, he got the job.
When asked if there was a significant memory or favorite story he would carry with him from Jewell, Horne recalled a particular story that stood out to him.
“Of course, I’ll never forget the student who took me out for a coffee upon graduation to inform me that he was making something of his life by starting a marijuana farm, in Missouri, no less—this was the cutting edge in entrepreneurship, I guess. Hell, he may have been right,” said Horne.
Over the course of the following academic year, courses in the department of religion at Jewell will be discontinued. While Horne is saddened by this decision, he understands the logic of it.
“I’m sad that the Religion department will discontinue (my colleague Dr. Benz will continue to teach religion in the History department). Religion is not going away, in fact it is more likely coming back (e.g., ‘The Revenge of God’). But, for Jewell it is mere cost-benefit and there’s no escaping that at this time in the college’s life. I understand that,” said Horne.
After he retires, Horne plans to build his piano tuning and technology business and will be an adjunct professor for Jewell when needed.
“Plans after retirement? Well, to make a living, I will do what I have done at various stages of my life: build up my piano tuning and technology business. I am a registered piano technician in the Piano Technician’s Guild and have experience that goes back to my apprenticeship in a rebuilder’s shop between the ages of 13-17. I plan to stay in Liberty and see what challenges are around the corner,” Horne said.
When asked if he was excited about his retirement, Horne says part of the excitement is in the unknown of retirement.
“It’s the kind of excitement a runner feels when she is at the starting line, she doesn’t really know how it’s going to turn out, she hopes she doesn’t stumble over the starting block…she knows it’s a new race. So, it’s that kind of excitement.”
Horne says that the thing he will miss the most about Jewell is the community of learning.
“What I’ll miss about Jewell is the community of learning. This is hard to explain to people who don’t work where learning is taught. I’m the one who has probably shown the most progress in learning, simply from being around colleagues who are so thoughtful and smart, in so many disciplines, with so many different life experiences that motivated them to learn. I’ll miss that the most. There will always be good individual students and smart people; but community of learning is rare,” said Horne.
Horne hopes to be remembered as a member of this community of learning.
“When you talk about a legacy you realize that legacies themselves usually last half a generation if at all. So, I’m really not looking for that kind of legacy, I’m far more interested in, if students ever remember that they had a course with me, what I would like for them to remember is that I loved to learn and that really is it…if anything, I would like to be remembered as someone who really, really tried to induct students into a community of learning,” Horne said.
Photos by Mykala Crews.
[Editors’ Amendment: Phrasing within this article was susceptible to misinterpretation. Hence, the following phrase was removed and amended from this article: “This year, Jewell announced that religion courses would be discontinued.”]
Dr. Horne & Dr. Chance were my anchors during college, and there is no question that I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support and guidance over the years. Most crucially, Dr. Horne led the Diakrinomina group that helped me hold onto my faith during difficult times. This group (literally meaning “of two minds”) lifted up the notion of doubt as an essential element to faith development. On a Baptist campus, doubt was seen as an impediment to faith, and Dr. Horne was brave enough to push against that, creating space for students to do the same. A mentor & a teacher in more ways that I can count, Dr. Horne has shaped the lives of so many, and I know the world is richer for his modeling.
But, unfortunately that’s not the only reason for my post today. Drs. Horne & Chance are retiring because William Jewell College has decided to dissolve the Religion department all together. While Religion will still be taught in the “History” department, it will no longer be an official aspect of the education offered at Jewell. This is such a shame for so many reasons. Not only was this department influential on almost every student who walked through the doors of WJC, as everyone was required to take religion course as part of one’s liberal arts education, but the Religion faculty were key players in teaching students to think critically about our world & to challenge the assumptions with which we entered college.
It was a matter of “a cost-benefit analysis.” While I don’t know the costs associated with running the department, the benefit of religion in today’s society – – especially religious study that is critical and honest, that advocates for the oppressed and never shies away from challenging the status quo – – is one not to be dismissed. In a society obsessed with self, religion can offer belief in and submission to that which transcends self. It can offer a moral compass in a world floundering for direction. While there may not have been many of us who chose Religion as a major, countless students at WJC have been impacted by the mark this department left on campus. I have had many reasons to be proud of my alma mater in the past, but this decision has left me disappointed, sad, and even angry, especially on behalf of the students who will be losing out on the opportunity for sacred and crucial self-growth for years to come.
Fellow Jewell alumni, if you feel similarly, I encourage you to make your disapproval known. And, if that doesn’t feel great to you, then at least make your gratitude known—tell WJC, the Office of the Chaplain, Drs. Horne & Chance & Pratt what your religious education meant to you during your time at Jewell. Please help me in showing them the “benefit” of this department. They need to hear it, they deserve to hear it.
I well remember an autumn afternoon in 1988, staring in (hours of?) excruciating silence at a painting on Dr. Horne’s office wall and wondering just how stupid he must have thought I was. “What do you see?” “Not a damn thing,” my mind screamed. I was a sophomore Hester Scholar in the now-defunct Oxbridge religious studies program and wondered desperately why I was being asked to play at art critic. I also can almost quote from memory his entire written mid-program assessment of my performance after two years – “He is an excellent writer, perhaps even gifted.” That I still remember with impact those words and that afternoon of creative struggle 30 years later may say more of my respect and admiration for the man than anything else I could communicate here. Peace and health in retirement, Milton.
I am deeply sadden to hear William Jewell has decided to discontinue its Religion Department.
I was not a religion major at Jewell, so I only took one religion class, Origins of Christianity, with Dr. Brad Chance, but that one class was one of the most influential classes I took. Professor Chance taught me to read the Bible with critical thought and an understanding that when I read the biblical text, I do so with a lens formed out of teachings from my parents, Sunday school teachers and pastors. Therefore, what the biblical text says to me is influenced, at least in part, by the preconceptions I bring to the text. That helped me understand how Christians in different denominations could read the same biblical text and sincerely differ on the meaning, even with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This understanding, along with several wonderful friends at Jewell, lead me to grow in my faith, taking me on a journey from my childhood Pentecostal church to evangelicalism.
I will always be thankful for the tough-love teaching of my parents and Pentecostal church, but I will also always be thankful for the teaching of Professor Chance who opened my understanding of the Bible. Having grown up in Liberty, I did not think I wanted to go to Jewell, but I am very thankful I did. Had I gone to an equally good but secular college, I am sure I would have received an excellent education, but at Jewell I receive not only an education for a career but for my life! I truly believe one of the things that makes Jewell special is its Christian heritage. I pray the board of trustees and President MacLeod Walls will reconsider their ill-conceived decision to dissolve Jewell’s Religion Department.
Dr. Horne taught me to think critically and I’ll ever be thankful and in his debt. I’m sad to know that the religion major has dissolved at WJC. Could WJC’s constituent church bodies not scrape dollars together to support this fine department?! My studies at Jewell led to a full theological education and ordination in the Episcopal Church for me. Surely countless others have had their lives transformed by studying religion at Jewell. I hope these decisions are revisited by the trustees and administration very soon. Surely a re-evaluation if the importance of critical biblical studies is in order.