Reflections at the Intersection of American History, Religion, Politics, and Academic Life
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Tal Howard Leaves Gordon for Endowed Chair at Valparaiso University
Tal and Agnes Howard
My old employer, Valparaiso University, keeps attracting quality historians. Last month I learned that my friend and prolific historian Tal Howard is leaving Gordon Collegeto become the Phyllis and Richard Dusenberg Chair of Christian Ethics and Professor of History at Valpo. For the last decade or so Tal ran the honors program and the Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon. His wife Agnes, a fine historian in her own right, will also be joining the faculty of Christ College, Valparaiso University's honors college. Congrats Tal and Agnes!
Here is an article from the Gordon College student newspaper:
Tal Howard’s office in the Center for Faith and Inquiry feels similar to a sanctuary. The walls are lined with bookshelves filled with historical and influential academic volumes on ethics, Christianity and philosophy. The hours in this room spent deep in thought and in meaningful conversations seem to have saturated the walls and floor with an air of the profound.
The office will only remain Howard’s for one more year. After spending more than a decade at Gordon, he and his family plan to head west to Indiana, where he will start a new chapter of his career as a professor at Valparaiso University.
The ties that the Howards have made in Massachusetts made leaving a “difficult decision,” Howard said.
“I don’t expect the heartache to fully heal,” he said, explaining that leaving is an “excitement with a lining of sadness.”
Agnes, Howard’s wife and a history professor at Gordon, agreed. “While there are things to look forward to, it is sad to leave dear friends and community at Gordon,” she said.
Nevertheless, Howard said he’s excited for the future, adding that his new position will give him ample time for writing and research for the three books he has under contract.
At Valparaiso, Howard will serve as Professor of History and the Humanities and holder of the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics. Howard’s wife, Agnes, will be appointed as lecturer at Christ College, the four-year honors college at Valparaiso. Howard came to Gordon 15 years ago as a professor in the history department. He held that position for four years before the college received a $2 million grant, with which he developed the Center for Faith and Inquiry (CFI), which houses the offices of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum (JAF) honors program, the Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series and the Respectful Conversations scholarship and symposia.
Since then, Howard has been directing JAF’s first 11 cohorts, doing “a lot” of writing and researching, directing the CFI and continuing to serve as a member of the history department faculty.
Agnes has taught various first- year courses, most recently The Great Conversation and in the history department. She has also been involved with Gordon-in-Orvieto. “I have enormously enjoyed getting to know students here, both in my own classes and in the JAF groups,” she said.
Howard wears a lot of hats, but colleagues and students say they are consistently struck by his humility and ability to facilitate deep thinking.
Ryan Groff, Administrative Director of the CFI, first met Howard during his interview for JAF while a student.
“It wasn’t a grill session, but more a conversation on my interests and what I appreciated at the time, which was absolutely a result of Tal’s personality,” he said.
While in JAF, Groff said he was struck by Howard’s ability to ask a question and have conversations, not just explain an opinion. “His personality sets that tone for the program,” Groff said. “The table that Howard sets is inviting.” Matthew Reese ’15, JAF alumnus and current CFI Apprentice, said Howard “is one of the most reputable researchers at Gordon. … But he’s humble. For someone who doesn’t know who he is, he can be an unassuming person to be around, but he’s quite the academic giant and extraordinarily brilliant, but at the same time without losing any of his personality.”
Reese said Howard taught him how scholarly research functions.
“As someone who is thinking of going into academia, it’s really helpful to learn to be academic,” Reese said.
Howard said one lesson he’s learned during his time at Gordon was the value of interdisciplinary conversation and the importance of people in shaping those conversations. As he leaves, he wants to be remembered for his work with JAF, where he hopes students will continue to have a deep understanding of tradition, recognize that faith has many intellectual resources, and ask deeper questions about themselves and their society, while letting a love and joy of learning flourish.
Howard is looking forward to finishing up his last year with JAF, the 12th cohort (“A nice, Biblical number,” he said) and a term packed with influential lecturers for the Faith Seeking Understanding series.
In his email to JAF alumni announcing his departure, Howard wrote that “establishing JAF and working with its many wonderful students has been one of the greatest pleasures and honors of my life; through it … I have received an education.”