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Joel

The post-evangelical public intellectual

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Joel   

Not sure how far this will go, but I had a whim this weekend to record a conversation and see where it went. This is something I've been interested in for a while. The setup basically goes like this:

1. "My generation" (post-80s or so) of evangelicals is now finishing terminal degrees and working our way up to positions of influence in publications, universities, organizations, forums for commentary, etc.

2. I use the term 'post-evangelical' loosely to refer to a generation of people who grew up in the broad evangelical movement (e.g. megachurches, certain political ideas, certain ideas about society and culture, aesthetics, etc) and are somehow changing how we deal with some of these things. (Not dissing the earlier things here, just trying to figure out what's going on now.)

3. In terms of 'public intellectual' I'm just trying to figure out what my peers and I are aiming to do with our work (criticism, essays, reviews, etc -- even blogs and podcasts I suppose). For me it's not a settled question really.

4. Personally I'm torn between my academic work, which isn't particularly sexy in the public sphere, and the stuff I've written for evangelical publications. (I've talked about this before. Again, nothing's really settled for me here, I'm just figuring it out.)

So here's a conversation I had with the poet Mischa Willet on some of these subjects (also Lewis, Beuchner, Berry, Schaeffer, Coldplay, and other things):

If you think this is a dumb idea, please don't hurt my feelings. I might try this again in a longer format with some other interlocutors.

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I enjoyed it, man.

These are topics and ideas that I've been thinking about more and more over the years. The larger number of discussions you have on them the better. Keep letting us know when you do another one.

And you can definitely make them longer. You and Mr. Willett seemed to introduce a few really interesting ideas (how the intellectual movers and shakers within evangelicalism have changed, how involvement and relative success in politics has changed the movement, and why we grew up in a culture where our leaders and teachers wouldn't even know who someone like Frederick Buechner was) and, well ... if there was one thing I regretted about the podcast, it's that you brought them up and then just kind of left them. I'd chalk it down to your podcast just being a first experiment. But, absolutely continue.

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Joel   

Thanks, Jeremy, for listening. I actually made the decision to turn on the recorder about 2 hours into the conversation, so that's probably one reason it feels kind of unfinished. I wish I'd turned it on earlier!

I don't have a ton of time for this but would like to try to do more if possible.

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3. In terms of 'public intellectual' I'm just trying to figure out what my peers and I are aiming to do with our work (criticism, essays, reviews, etc -- even blogs and podcasts I suppose). For me it's not a settled question really.

4. Personally I'm torn between my academic work, which isn't particularly sexy in the public sphere, and the stuff I've written for evangelical publications. (I've talked about this before. Again, nothing's really settled for me here, I'm just figuring it out.)

Great stuff, and a lot of the same questions I've wrestled with myself, though from an academic/evangelical pastor perspective. I'm living in this tension of being an evangelical youth pastor who also reads/enjoys classic literature and the artistic merits of film, as well as the intellectual/academia world, though in theological circles. So your conversation rings true for my own experience, and if you kept up the conversation, I'd be listening.

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Joel   

New proto-episode (I say proto because this still doesn't feel like a real thing yet) is here. This one is much more substantive than the first one -- it's 40 minutes long.

 

In this continuing attempt to do an interview/conversation series about how 30-something (post)evangelicals are dealing with intellectual work in the academic and public spheres, I called up Alan Noble, founder of the website/magazine Christ and Pop Culture and a PhD candidate in literature at Baylor University.

 

Our conversation included things like tensions between writing for academic and popular audiences, Alan's work with Christ and Pop Culture, engagement with "SCIENCE," confrontations on the internet, literary theory, and how to deal with things you don't like.

 

https://soundcloud.com/thepepi/the-post-evangelical-public

 

I had some audio issues. I have a version with my end buzzing horribly, or a version with Alan's end getting echoey at times. I uploaded the echoey one because I found the buzzing more distracting.

 

You guys are still my guinea pigs for this project. I appreciate your listening and hope to figure out how to turn this into a real-er thing soon.

Edited by Joel

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Joel   

I am going  to try to do one of these with David Sessions soon, if anybody knows who he is. Anybody else I should try to talk to? Youngish with one foot in each area of the academic/public divide?

Edited by Joel

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I am going  to try to do one of these with David Sessions soon, if anybody knows who he is. Anybody else I should try to talk to? Youngish with one foot in each area of the academic/public divide?

I do.  Sessions graduated from the same new little Christian undergrad college that I graduated from.  I first noticed him in the books section of The Daily Beast, because, besides book reviews, he tries to collect and recommend some of the best written essays to be found online each week.  From what I've read, he seems to share much of the same admiration and criticism I have for the college we attended.  "Christian" colleges are interesting discussion topics in and of themselves.  And this one was particularly interesting because of how it tried (or is trying) to be different from other similar schools funded by evangelical benefactors.  In fact, you might consider asking him a little about it since he's in the the middle of a controversy about the school right now that is directly relevant to academic questions within Christianity and the public square.

 

Other names that it would be fun to try for, while admitting that they might be pretty busy or otherwise occupied:

 

Brett McCracken

Alissa Harris

Rachel Held Evans

Matthew Lee Anderson

Ross Douthat

Amy Frykholm

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I am going  to try to do one of these with David Sessions soon, if anybody knows who he is. Anybody else I should try to talk to? Youngish with one foot in each area of the academic/public divide?

 

I'm familiar with Sessions too (and generally appreciate his writing).

 

Some other suggestions. I don't know if these are as high-profile as Jeremy's (pretty sweet) list, but they meet your criteria and are all around great folks: 

 

Alissa and Tom Wilkinson

Dan Postma

Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Aaron Belz

Keith Martel (shameless plug for a friend; he's one of the most interesting people I know)

 

All have been involved in academic life in some way, and all have some public presence (some moreso than others).

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Joel   

Thanks for your ideas, guys! These are great. I have been wanting to talk to Alissa Wilkinson for some time about her approach to teaching. I noticed on her university's website that a lot of what they teach under the rubric of college writing is more like writing in popular contexts, which I think might be tied to the interests colleges like Kings (and PHC for that matter) have in the 'public square' as it were. Anyway, will keep this all in mind. I think she'll be one I am for soon.

 

This is really fun but I think I need to really do it right if I want people to listen. The steps for putting up a podcast on iTunes seem a little daunting. And the title of the show feels extremely unsexy to me...

 

Thanks again for being beta testers! Always open to input.

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