Our Mission and Objectives

Mission

The Bethel University Department of History prepares students who are “bilingual,” imaginatively comfortable in a historic past and actively engaged with the present.

While we serve a variety of constituencies (including, as scholars, professional societies and the larger academy), our mission is centered on teaching and student learning.

Objectives

1. Our students will gain a broad knowledge of human history, deepened by the integration of Christian faith and learning, the recurrence of marginalization and interconnectedness as historical themes, and the development of their own particular passions and interests.

Believing that all of God’s creation — including all human beings, who bear the image of God — is worthy of study, we have constructed our curriculum broadly, so that it familiarizes students with the histories of peoples from multiple regions, including the United States, Europe, and parts of the Global South. Our curriculum features survey courses that each give an overview of a region, era, and/or field while also enabling faculty to teach to their interests and expertise and students to conduct more focused study on narrow topics of their selection.

Within this admittedly broad objective, our curriculum and courses will reflect the following shared emphases:

MARGINALIZATION AND EMPATHY

We affirm that our faith and learning are necessarily interrelated, so courses will frequently lead students to consider what is distinctive about the discipline of history as Christians practice it. While students should expect to see their professors model varying philosophical and methodological responses to this question, we share the guiding assumption that historians who follow Jesus Christ ought to imitate him in paying special attention to those on the margins of society: the poor, the oppressed, and the alien, to name but a few groups. Rather than simply repeating comfortable narratives of power and privilege, we will seek to tell the stories of those who are powerless and dispossessed. In particular, our courses will consider categories like gender, class, and race that have often been used to perpetuate injustice.

Such emphases demand that we work even harder to develop a basic skill for historians: empathy. We affirm that history is not merely the collection of an objective set of facts, but requires us to be aware of our own subjectivity and to develop the imaginative understanding necessary to see the world as others see it. As a special focus, we will be hospitable to those of different religions and ideologies.

THE “CLOUD OF WITNESSES”

While we are interested in the stories of people from all faiths (and those professing no religious belief), we will be particularly attentive to the role played by Christians within history.

This does not mean that we will engage in hagiography, celebrating uncritically the temporal story of the church and its members; all Christians sin and fall short of the glory of God, and so even their ecclesial institutions are inherently flawed and prone to subverting the very gospel they proclaim. But we are guided by the biblical image of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), which reminds us that we are but the latest participants in a millennia-old narrative of God and his people, a story that will not always be comfortable for us to tell but nonetheless inspires us to persevere as we “run… the race that is set before us.”

INTERCONNECTEDNESS

No single history can be studied in isolation. So while each course may focus on a particular group, territory, civilization, or event, students should expect to encounter themes of interconnectedness: categories central to international and transnational history (e.g., war and diplomacy, empire, migration, trade and commerce, cultural exchange, technological development, human interactions with their physical environment); comparisons between societies and cultures; and attentiveness to continuity and discontinuity across time.

In addition, we will emphasize the connections of individual courses to larger educational projects. Each course helps to build foundations for further study in later history coursework, in the Bethel general education curriculum, and in students’ lives after college.

PASSIONATE CURIOSITY

We recognize that those who study history do so out of a God-given, passionate curiosity about the past that is as distinctive to the individual as it is unusual in contemporary American culture. So while providing basic foundations for broad historical knowledge, we leave ample room — in the curriculum and in individual courses — for students to explore their personal interests. This is exemplified by our capstone course, a seminar facilitating original research by senior students into virtually any historical topic.

2. Our students will cultivate wisdom, so that they can live skillfully in the present day, serving others and glorifying God wherever they’re called.

As important as it is for our students to gain a broad knowledge of the past, we view our task as more formative than informative. Above all, we hope to form our students as followers of Jesus Christ who “busy themselves on Earth” though “their citizenship is in heaven” (in the words of The Letter to Diognetus, an early Christian apologetic). While they sojourn in this world, our students will “busy” themselves in a variety of callings, but all to two basic ends: what the Pietist educator A. H. Francke summed up as “God’s glory and neighbor’s good.”

To do this requires not merely knowledge, but wisdom, which Eugene Peterson defines as “the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves.” So, knowing that our students will encounter a variety of conditions after leaving Bethel, we seek to cultivate wisdom through the development of two basic sets of skills:

LIFELONG LEARNING

The completion of a Bethel degree is but one stage in a lifelong process of learning, defined by the apostle Paul in the famous admonishment: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” (Rom 12:2a). So to help them avoid the trap of being “conformed to this world” and to sustain the ongoing renewal of their minds beyond college, we equip our students to ask good questions (rather than accepting assumptions and arguments without challenge) and to locate, identify, and evaluate sources and synthesize and analyze data and interpretations as they seek answers to those questions. So, across the curriculum and culminating in the capstone experience, our courses will train students in skills like critical thinking, reading (not just books and articles, but in a variety of media), and research.

Students should thereby be equipped not only to continue their studies in graduate or professional school (for those called to careers in education, law, ministry, health care, business, etc.), but also to ask and answer questions they might encounter as voters, consumers, parents, employees or employers, church members, and in other roles.

COMMUNICATION

Because learning itself is not a purely individual pursuit and because our students will follow callings that will take them into conversation with people of varying backgrounds, they must be able to communicate effectively. We place highest importance on the ability to write well in a variety of genres, but coursework will also prepare students to communicate orally or via audio-visual media.

Of course, we also want students to recognize that communication does not travel in one direction alone. They should also have the skill of listening, cultivated in part by treating courses as conversations in which students must pay attention to the voices of peers, professors, other scholars, and women and men from throughout history.

Adopted August 2011

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