After many years, I am on my first full-fledged sabbatical. The last 19 years of administration made it difficult to take an extended period of time for study, reflection, and writing or creation of some kind. That, by the way, is a definition of a sabbatical. It is not just time off, but time for intensive work in one’s discipline, to retool in some measure, and write or produce works of scholarship or performance, depending on the type of academic work each of us does. Anyway, I am on the first real, full-semester sabbatical I have had in the 30+ years during which I have been teaching.

As you can imagine, it is an adjustment. From multiple meetings daily, I have moved to an appointment or two a week. It takes a much planning I am finding, to effectively work with an open schedule as it does with a full schedule. I have learned from some of my amazingly productive colleagues at FPU who write articles, books, compose and produce during sabbaticals. I am working toward the same by the end of the fall. The goal is that those of us who teach will continue to be up-to-date in our teaching, bring energized and thoughtful minds to the classroom, with topics that educate, expand minds, and have relevance for students today.

So what does one do on a sabbatical? I suppose it depends on the discipline we work in. I am up working by about 7:00 and go till somewhere around noon, and then resume in the afternoon.

For now it is reading in and around political thinkers in seventeenth century England, particularly a group call the Cambridge Platonists. They were a group who reacted to strict predestinarian Calvinism, and the role of the Puritans, Presbyterians, and different forms of radical movements (Ranters, Diggers, Levellers, Anabaptists of one form or another, and Quakers, just to name a few), and their role in the English Civil Wars and rule of Oliver Cromwell (all from about 1640-1660). They survived all of this, and the Restoration of the monarchy.

To get a grasp on this I have to read about Cambridge Platonist thinking and activity, the scientific revolution which was the major intellectual movement of the time, and the multiple schools of political thinking all struggling to come to grips with a civilizational and political environment in which different forms of Christian belief were used to justify rebellion, revolt, the killing of a king, the restructuring of a government, and finally the restoration of kingship. They were also concerned with deliberately anti-Christian thinking, and the materialist culture that was then forming that would become one of the defining characteristics of our modern world. It is a bit complex. The Cambridge thinkers were Christian theologians who took seriously the role of Christians in society, as well as of faith for the full development of a person. I am convinced there is something there to teach us, but it is difficult to define. I have been working on forms of this for most of my career, and find it interesting and compelling. It doesn’t particularly bother me that others do not! More on that later.

I have some other duties—an accreditation visit to a Mexican university, some accreditation training, writing a review for the FPU’s Pacific Journal—and a few other ongoing projects. But for now I am jealously guarding my time for study, reflection and writing. You may see me in a Starbuck’s some morning, usually outside, reading, or writing (can’t stay home alone all of the time). If you do, stop for a minute to chat. I won’t bore you with the Cambridge Platonists. I am looking forward to the return to the classroom next semester, to working with students, and to considering big ideas and some of the important topics and struggles we face today.

Educated State

Steve Varvis

Tagged: Professors Scholarship