In the approaching fall semester, William Jewell College will be launching a Center for Faith and Culture on campus. Dr. Brendon Benz, professor of history and theologian-in-residence, will be serving as part of the leadership for the Center.
According to Benz, the Center at Jewell is a result of a very generous gift from Philip and Patricia Love. Philip is a Jewell graduate and served as managing director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University, which will serve as a blueprint of sorts to the Center at Jewell. In fact, there are already some similarities between the Center at Yale and the Critical Thought and Inquiry program here at Jewell, as Benz points out.
“One of the driving features of the Center at Yale is to consider, from a broad, ecumenical perspective, what a life of flourish looks like,” Benz said. “To that end, faculty at the Center offer the course Education and the Life Worth Living to undergraduates at Yale, and Christ & Being Human to students at the Divinity School. The intentions of these courses broadly correspond to the intentions of our beloved CTI 100.”
The Center will work hand-in-hand with the Sacred and Secular category of the CTI program, with the goal of providing a better focus on spiritual exploration, one of the core values of the College.
Benz is particularly excited about one aspect of the Center.
“A particularly exciting feature of the Center that I believe will deeply impact the lives of our students and the community at large is that we aim to recruit leaders from the wider Kansas City community to develop and teach Sacred & Secular courses at Jewell as Fellows of the Center,” said Benz. “In addition to diversifying the perspectives presented in the classroom, it is our hope that these courses will provide more opportunities for students to encounter and participate in movements and activities that give flesh to what they are learning in the classroom.”
One of these courses has already been announced. Dr. Vernon Percy Howard – a Jewell graduate who is a pastor at St. Mark’s Church in Kansas City and the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City – will develop and teach a course titled 21st Century Social Movements & The Black Freedom Struggle in the U.S. Howard has also been very influential in his community, as he received the Harold L. Holliday Sr. Civil Rights Award from the Missouri Branch of the NAACP just last year.
“This course studies key social movements in the United States and their impact upon the cultural, economic, religious, and political strata and structures of the nation,” according to the course description. “Central focus is placed on the prolific Black struggle for freedom and justice in America with particular emphasis on the African American Prophetic Tradition, a sacred stream of influence within that struggle that is infused by a biblical hermeneutic serving as the ethical norm and trademark of secular political praxis amid Black social movements for justice in America. Historical periods and phenomena under investigation include the Antebellum South, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, Black Exceptionalism, and Black Lives Matter. Through the prism of the historic Black struggle for freedom and its enduring Prophetic Tradition, this course researches the new and unfolding national/global reckoning with the moral aims of movements around anti-racism, labor rights and worker justice, gender equity and sexual orientation, reparations, climate justice, Indigenous People’s rights, women’s rights, peace, democracy, and youth activism.”
It has also been confirmed that Father Nathan Rueb, another Jewell graduate who, among other things, serves as an associate pastor at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church and a chaplain at St. Pius X High School, will also teach a Sacred and Secular course.
The Center will also work to get the outside community involved.
“In the end, we are looking to foster meaningful relationships among individuals and groups on and off our campus in part through the marriage of theory and practice,” said Benz.
The Center for Faith and Culture will be something to keep an eye on as it launches next semester.