New professor brings politics, religion to Baylor

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Baylor’s newest faculty member presented her first lecture as the visiting distinguished professor of religion and public life, discussing her experiences as a Christian and theorist Wednesday.

Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain, who is also the Laura Spelman Rockefeller professor of social and political ethics at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, shared some of the most insight that helped shape her into a Christian intellectual thinker.

“The primary reason I thought we needed religion was to somehow get good people,” Elshtain said.

“But I decided that wasn’t really it. One didn’t have to be religious to be a law-abiding citizen. I knew that Christianity was a deeper and more powerful mystery than that and could not be reduced to some instrument value,” she added.

Elshtain said as her career progressed, nearly all the topics she picked up forged together ethics and politics, specifically Christian ethics.

“When ethics entered the picture, it was the ethics I had inherited. It derived from the Christian tradition in its multiple manifestations,” Elshtain said.

Elshtain also said ethical questions answered with religion are prevalent in today’s world, which affects the political scene.

“Whether it was the power in authority, the condition of democracy, bioethics and engineering, stem cells and abortion, or religion and theology in politics, the connection of Christian to philosopher became more exquisite and robust,” Elshtain said.

Baylor worked hard to bring Elshtain, who has written many books and frequently lectures on topics including democracy, religion and politics, ethical dilemmas and international relations, to campus.

Dr. Elizabeth Davis, executive vice president and provost, introduced Elshtain.

“Today is a very special day in the life of the university as we officially welcome Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain to her new role at Baylor,” Davis said.

“[She] will be based at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, where she will conduct new scholarship on the intersection of religion and public life,” she said.

Davis said that Elshtain is already working with faculty, undergraduate and graduate students in the departments of political science, philosophy and the Honors College. The lecture Wednesday was the first in a series of lectures Elshtain has agreed to present each fall.

Davis made a point to warn the audience not to be discouraged by Elshtain’s title of visiting professor.

“We are optimistic that her Baylor post will be anything but short-term,” Davis said.

At the end of the lecture, Elshtain took questions from the audience.

One audience member asked her to offer a critique of the current American political situation. Elshtain responded by telling what she thinks is lacking in the debates that are currently taking place for the upcoming presidential election.

“There is a weakened state to our political debates,” Elshtain said. “We put a premium, as you know the way television functions, on people being able to make a few points and get a few sound bites that will be on the news. As a result a whole range of very complex issues are given a short script and aren’t really discussed with the amplitude and the reasonableness they should be.”