Now we turn to a more direct example of the supposed conflict between economic work and spiritual health. This is from the fascinating study of Cistercian economic activities penned by Constance Bouchard.[i] Bouchard states the crux of her argument like this:
“Whereas modern scholars usually contrast spirituality and economic success, the Cistercian order in Burgundy, in its first century of development and expansion, was able to participate in the multiplying economic activities of the period and at the same time continue to be considered by its secular neighbors an intensely holy order whose monks had the ear of God.” (ix-x)
I note again that “secular” used above means what it has meant to older generations and still means to the Roman Catholic Church: those Christians who, in contrast to the “regular” (rule-following) monastics whose daily round focused on eternity, engage in the business of the world and of “this age” (the saeculum). Thus even priests were considered seculars. And certainly knights, peasants, and craftsmen as well – most of whom would have been trying to live as Christians, and had at least elementary understanding of, and agreement with, key theological sources such as the creeds.
Bouchard “use[d] the rich but largely untapped Cistercian archives to study economic exchanges between the monasteries and their secular, primarily knightly, neighbors,” reviewing records of over 2,000 economic exchanges, nearly two-thirds of them never having seen print, and only accessible in Burgundian archives. (ix)
I’ve mentioned that in the past few months, I’ve been honored to have rich conversations with theological educators across the country, focused in part on their vocational lives and challenges. (And at the same time, I’ve been reading every Chronicle article I could find on faculty vocation.)
As a (former) professor and the son of a professor, these people and these vocations are dear to my heart. And the pace of change in academe over the past ten years, and especially the past two, has been breathtaking. We’ve all been on a roller coaster, and we all feel new kinds of precarity (both personal and institutional) and we’ve all faced new challenges – as well as new opportunities – in our working lives.
In these conversations, the theme of change management and “forced innovation” came up again and again. Students are looking for new modes of education. The pandemic forced us to convert all our courses to online formats. Our budgets are more and more constrained, while we’re asked to do more and more. Shared governance seems largely a thing of the past, as institutions’ relationships with faculty continue to shift (and adjunctivization continues apace). In a previous post, I’ve paralleled this new reality to the tidal wave of change in the ’80s business world, which sparked the “third wave” faith and work movement.
Meanwhile, for those of us still in the academic trenches, how do we not only cope with this time of rapid change, but also build on the innovation we’ve been pushed into during the past few years – and the past decade?
For the past few years I’ve been part of an eclectic group of folks who have met every quarter to read through small, curated sets of readings on a common topic. Our topics have included current research on (and definitions of) human flourishing, systems thinking, network thinking, secularization and religion, institutions and professions, the rising generation, and many others. I’ve been honored to partner with a brilliant friend to curate the readings and guide the discussions for each of these seminars.
Our topic for our next discussion is “the vocation and flourishing of college and university faculty,” highlighting both the ideals and realities of the role of faculty in higher education and the current opportunities and challenges of being a faculty member.
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