"Secrets of a Master Scholar"

Kelly Baker

Our illustrious leader, Paul Harvey, was recently interviewed by the Colorado Springs Record because of his excellent scholarship as well as his Teacher of the Year award, 2007-2008, at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Congratulations, Paul!

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

CSR+: Congratulations on being awarded Teacher of the Year at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs 2007-08. It is a great honor that recognizes you an academic leader at UCCS and in the community. What has contributed to the quality of your teaching excellence?

I have compared teaching history classes to my favorite musical form: jazz. Teaching is taking a theme, making sure that theme is explored, but allowing plenty of room for improvisation, and most especially for those moments when a student conversation or insight “takes flight”, and something totally unexpected emerges. Being rigorously trained in the discipline, being clear and firm on the standards expected in the classroom, but also being open “to the moment”—all of these combined are required, I believe, for the best teaching. It requires a careful blend of discipline, structure, and spontaneity which never stays the same from one class to another. One also has to have a lot of patience and forgiveness, both for students, but also for one’s own self; every day is not going to be a shining moment of teaching brilliance, and sometimes your most valued and ostensibly impressive teaching experiments will just flat-out fail. That’s fine, as long as one always learns from the experience.


CSR+: Your particular interest lies in the impact of religion on American culture and society. How would you characterize the profound impact religion has had or has on American culture? Is it different from the impact of religion other societies around the world?

The impact of religion in America presents a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, the United States was founded with the principle of the separation of church and state, without any established church or religious tests for office. Some of the founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, believed that this would lead to a society based on rationalism rather than (as Jefferson saw them) biblical myths and religious superstitions. But then, as it turned out, history worked out very differently, and the United States became a place where religion exerted more influence than perhaps any other society in the western world. That influence was deeply pervasive and cultural, rather than strictly political, and this dates, I believe, from the antebellum era of American history (about the 1820s forward), with what is called the “Second Great Awakening.” That is when evangelicalism became a dominant form of religious expression. It’s hard to compare America’s experience with religion’s influence to anywhere else, for in this regard the United States is sui generis, unlike anywhere else.


CSR+: What role does religion play in current American society? Is it healthy or unhealthy? How do you see the role of religion on American society evolving as our country’s population becomes more diversified?

That’s a hard question to answer, because in the field of religious studies, no one really agrees on what the term “religion” means, and certainly the impact of religion in public life, and whether that is “healthy” or “unhealthy,” is deeply disputed – just think of the arguments about groups such as Focus on the Family, for example. Religion is deeply ingrained, for better or worse, in our national identity, in our political dialogues, and even in the most basic metaphors that we use to understand America as a country. That’s why a 17th-century Puritan phrase, “city upon a hill,” has had such a long life in American politics. That kind of American idealism, derived ultimately from religious ideas, has inspired much of what is best in our country’s history (including the ideals of religious freedom, however imperfectly practiced, that I mentioned above), as well as much of what is worst in our history (including the legacies of slavery, racism, intolerance, and religiously motivated violence). Nowadays, as Americans learn pretty much for the first time in our history what “pluralism” truly means – i.e., not just different varieties of Christians, or even different varieties of Jews and Christians, but multitudes of different faiths living together in close proximity – our religious heritage of de facto Protestantism continues to lag behind the reality of religious pluralism. That explains the tortured debate about whether America is a “Christian nation.” Yet the U.S. has the promise to show what a truly religious pluralistic society looks like. We’re a long ways from that, but we’re a far sight better than we used to be.


Brad Hart said…
You are right. The ILLUSTRIOUS Dr. Paul Harvey is WITHOUT QUESTION one of the finest professors of history in all of America. Having taken his Historiography, 600 course I have already had the SACRED privilege of learning at the feet of a master! I can only hope that his History, 671 course will be as stimulating and enlightening. To bask in his radiance this fall is sure to be a religious experience in itself, and will surely be a lifelong memory for every one of his students!
Anonymous said…
Is Paul Harvey the greatest American religious history teacher since Joseph Smith? I hope the Banner of Liberty folks will take up that question.
Phil said…
Congrats, Paul. Keep up the good work!
John Fea said…
Congrats, Paul. What an honor! --John
Paul Harvey said…
Brad: Good job on sucking up, flattery will get you everywhere. But remember: the cover of the CS Record is like the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx, once you make it it all goes to hell, and based on that premise Hist 671 is likely to suck. Just a fair warning.

Ed: rather than greatest religious history teacher, I was thinking of something more like "most disappointing draft pick since . . . " and then fill in the blank. Maybe "since Sam Bowie."

Phil and John: You're younger than me, so remember, it's not too late. There's still hope.

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