Monday, May 16, 2011

On assignment

One of the categories I'm supposed to list for my year-end faculty activity report is "community service for which your professional training is essential."  The idea is to show what you do outside of your job that enriches the lives of others through the kind of expertise you bring to the inside of your job.

I always think about that phrase "for which your professional training is essential" when I'm asked to contribute a piece to an online magazine or speak to a Sunday school class.  Those invitations come with a fair amount of regularity, probably due to a combination of the expertise I have to contribute and the avocations and extracurricular interests for which I'm known.

Consider the latest few examples -- two pieces for the recently-launched site Jesus, Jazz, Buddhism and one that will be appearing at the end of the week on Arkansas: Abroad.  The topics I was asked to cover were movies (The King's Speech in particular), the internet (and its relation to a philosophy of the material world in particular), and religious tolerance (stemming from a visit by the Dalai Lama to the area), all from the perspective of a theologian.  That list extends to the sites of my research interests, draws upon non-theological expertise I've developed, and stakes a position in an area where anyone in my field would be expected to be able to speak cogently.

I like being asked to write these pieces, although they're not always easy.  It seems to me that academics ought to contribute to the public conversation in areas where our training has led us to think deeply.  The most rewarding part, though, is being able to make connections between the skills I've developed in various aspects of my work and the kinds of cultural conversations in which a broad array of people want to be involved.

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