Senior Seminar

This past Monday night marked the first meeting of our spring section of HIS499 Senior Seminar, the capstone course in Bethel’s History major. “Senior Sem” primarily involves a significant project of original research, with each student investigating whatever historical topic most interests them (so long as it can be researched given their knowledge of languages and/or the availability of sources) and producing both an article-length paper and a formal presentation to students and faculty at the end of the semester. (Here’s a summary of the projects presented at the end of last fall’s section of Senior Sem.)

In addition, HIS499 serves as a chance for students to reflect more deeply on some philosophical and methodological questions facing historians (particularly, historians who are also Christian and wondering what difference that might make for their faith or their work), and to consider their vocation outside of college. What will it mean for them to continue to cultivate their interest in history apart from participation in a college major? For some, that interest will take them to graduate school, or lead them to work in a social studies classroom, archive, or museum. For most, history will remain a passion without much obvious connection to their profession.

To share with you all something of what our students get out of this course, each week through May we’ll be posting at least one or two reflections from the current Senior Seminar-ians: excerpts from the seminar journal they’ll be keeping throughout the semester. Some posts will be focused on the status of research projects; others will be more philosophical in tone. (And, of course, students will have the chance to opt out of having their journal entries turned into blog posts. The only words you’ll see from these journals are those that students are willing to share beyond our class.)

In the meantime… Alumni: what are your memories of Senior Seminar?


Black History Month at Bethel

As many of you know, February is annually celebrated as Black History Month, a time to reflect on the African-American experience in this country. It’s being marked at Bethel in a few different ways.

First, in keeping with this year’s theme, “One More River to Cross… Literacy,” Bethel is running a month-long community book drive: please consider donating children’s books that are multicultural in nature (e.g., written by persons of color, featuring pictures of children of multiple ethnic backgrounds — download this list for suggestions). In addition, you can sign up outside Campus Ministries or at the Seminary reception desk to take a turn reading to kids in the campus Child Development Center (weekdays, 9:45am and 2:45pm) or the King Child Development Center in Frogtown (all this week — Feb. 6-10 — at 9:00, 9:30, and 11:00am).

Second, various offices and individuals at Bethel are helping to produce a series of events highlighting African-American history and culture. Remaining events include:

Thursday, Feb. 9 — Dramatic Skit and Music, 12:10-12:55pm, Seminary Lower Campus Center
Details are forthcoming. Please contact Rebekah Eller if you have any questions: rebekah-eller(at) or (651) 638-6049.

Monday, Feb. 13 — SemPM Chapel, 7:35-7:55pm, Sem Lower Campus Center
Alumnus Nancy Ellis leads students in a time of song, reflection and prayer.

Tuesday, Feb. 14 — University Library Musical and Literary Review, 10:20-11:00am, Bethel University Library
Herb Johnson (Music) and Angela Shannon (English) share words and music from the African-American musical tradition.

Thursday, Feb. 16 — Conflict Resolution Workshop, 6:00-10:00pm, Eastlund Room
Facilitated by Leon Rodrigues and our own Ruben Rivera.

Friday, Feb. 17 and Saturday, Feb. 18 — Moberg Conference, Eastlund Room
The fourth Bethel University Conference on Sociological Perspectives on Reconciliation. Click here for more details on speakers and sessions.

Friday, Feb. 17 — Gospel Concert, 7:00-8:30pm, Benson Great Hall
Featuring Bethel’s Chapel Choir, Herb Johnson, and other guest performers.

Wednesday, Feb. 22 — Film Forum, 6:30pm, CC313
Screening the film, 500 Years Later, plus a panel discussion.

Thursday, Feb. 23 — Seminary Chapel, 2:30-3:00pm
Please contact Rebekah Eller if you have any questions: rebekah-eller(at) or (651) 638-6049.

Tuesday, Feb. 28 – Musical and Literary Review, 12:00-1:00pm, Seminary Lower Campus Center
Herb Johnson and Angela Shannon share words and music from the African-American musical tradition.

A Defense of the Liberal Arts

Nannerl Keohane
Nannerl O. Keohane - Duke University Library

Are the liberal arts (e.g., history) irrelevant or out of date? Not according to Nannerl Keohane, former president of Duke University and Wellesley College:

The very broad, capacious form of education that we call the liberal arts is rooted in a specific curriculum in classical and medieval times. But it would be wrong to assume that because it has such ancient roots, this kind of education is outdated, stale, fusty, or irrelevant. In fact, quite the contrary. A liberal-arts education, which Louis Menand defined in The Marketplace of Ideas as “a background mentality, a way of thinking, a kind of intellectual DNA that informs work in every specialized area of inquiry,” lends itself particularly well to contemporary high-tech methods of imparting knowledge.

And far from making the liberal arts less important, trends like technological development and globalization are enhancing their value. (She notes how professors are adapting to the “power of multimedia,” and points out the attractiveness of the liberal arts curriculum to Asian universities like those partnering with Yale.) Yet they seem to be increasingly under attack in this country, as academic disciplines become more and more specialized, the perception grows that professional programs offer greater economic advantage, and graduate education receives more focus.

In response, she claims five distinct advantages of a liberal arts education:

First, it teaches us how to learn — and in such a way that “that you look at the subject from many different dimensions and incorporate the material into your own thinking in ways that will be much more likely to stay with you, and help you later on.” In addition, this kind of learning is timeless; while

…if you only focus on learning specific materials that are pertinent in 2012, rather than learning about them in a broader context, you will soon find that your training will have become valueless. Most important, with a liberal education you will have learned how to learn, so that you will be able to do research to answer questions in your field that will come up years from now, questions that nobody could even have envisioned in 2012, much less taught you how to answer.

Second, whatever its benefits for preparing students for further education and training, a liberal arts education also has this monumental benefit (especially important at a Christian college like Bethel, I think):

…it hones the mind, teaching focus, critical thinking, and the ability to express oneself clearly both in writing and speaking—skills that are of great value no matter what profession you may choose. It’s not just that you are taught specific materials in a liberally designed context, but more generally, the way your mind is shaped, the habits of thought that you develop.

Third, Keohane remains convinced that the liberal arts are best suited to educate people for “citizenship in a democracy like ours.” She quotes Martha Griswold’s Not For Profit, that a liberal arts education helps prepare the “complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements” that a democracy requires, citizens who have the abilities “to think about the good of the nation as a whole, not just that of one’s local group” and “to see one’s own nation, in turn, as part of a complicated world order.”

Fourth, liberal arts cultivate people “who have rich and fascinating intellectual furniture in those spaces rather than a void between their ears”; they help us to prepare a “back room” in our minds, full of art, music, literature, etc. “Back rooms” that “[prepare] you for both society and solitude.”

And finally, such studies “admit you to a community of scholars, both professional and amateur, spanning the ages.”

Read Keohane’s whole essay (adapted from a speech to the Council of Independent Colleges’ Presidents Institute) here. (H/T David Williams)

– Chris Gehrz

Cross-posted at The Pietist Schoolman

Ron Paul at Bethel

Ron Paul, 2011
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), at an event last February - Creative Commons (Gage Skidmore)

Bethel’s Benson Great Hall briefly became a focal point of the Republican presidential campaign on Saturday afternoon, when it hosted libertarian congressman Ron Paul of Texas and the 1500 people who filled the hall to hear him speak. The event was sponsored by Bethel’s College Republicans, whose leadership includes History major Grant Erickson and History minor Mike Thompson. (Both were pictured in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press story on the event.) History alum Ryan Soller (’11) has a cameo at the beginning of this report from KARE-TV on the Paul rally.

Weekend Reading

Attila the Hun
15th century bronze medal showing Attila, "The Scourge of God" - Wikimedia

• The title of this article from Past Imperfect, the Smithsonian’s history blog, pretty much speaks for itself: “Nice Things to Say About Attila the Hun.”

Past Imperfect also has the terrible story of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s ill-fated walk across Antarctica in 1912-1913.

• Paul Harvey (Religion in American History) interviews one of the foremost historians of religion in 18th century America: Thomas Kidd, author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and a forthcoming biography of evangelist George Whitefield.

• The immodest immigrant inventor of the Monitor, the unlikely Union ironclad that fought the most famous naval battle of the Civil War.

Click this link RIGHT NOW if you’ve waited your whole life for the chance to listen to the actual voice of 19th century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Yes, an early Edison phonograph cylinder was recently found to contain a recording of Bismarck reciting poetry and songs — including, of all things, portions of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.”

• As the presidential primary season rolls on, check out a brief history of Mormons running for president: two Romneys, plus Mo Udall, Joseph Smith himself, and (kind of) Eldridge Cleaver. And then read about the history of presidential debates (especially the televised kind).

• This April marks the 30th anniversary of the brief war between Argentina and Great Britain over the South Atlantic islands that the two countries call, respectively, the Malvinas and the Falklands. Still claimed by the Argentine government, the islands are garrisoned by British forces, whose ranks will soon include a pilot named Lt. William Wales — a.k.a., Prince William, second in line to the British throne. The prince’s assignment (plus the depiction of the 1982 war in the new Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady), coming so close to the war’s anniversary, has aroused heated new rhetoric from Buenos Aires, though opinion polls indicate that 45% of the Argentinian population has little or no interest in the question of the islands.

Our Mission and Objectives (part 3)

In the first post in this series, we looked at our department’s revised mission statement, adopted last August. I closed that post by noting that we left the mission statement itself without explicit reference to Christianity, since it would be followed by two objectives that make our religious commitments eminently clear.

Last time we looked at the first of those objectives, which focused on student acquisition of historical knowledge. Today we’ll close the series by sharing the second objective, which affirms that knowledge of the past is not enough if, as we put it in our mission statement, our students should be “actively engaged with the present.”

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:


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.


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.

For our students and alumni who’ve been reading this series, we’d love to hear your take:

Do the stated mission and objectives seem to match up with what you experience(d) at Bethel?

Which of the objectives seem most important to you?

Are there other objectives you think are important but neglected in this statement?

– Chris Gehrz

<<Read the previous entry in this series

Two Tutoring Opportunities

A pair of Twin Cities-based programs are looking for current students or recent graduates who are interested in working with local high school students.

First, College Possible (formerly Admission Possible), which is open to recent college graduates and describes itself as

a nonprofit college access program, is recruiting recent college graduates to serve as AmeriCorps members helping make college admission and success a reality for low-income students!  We will be selecting close to 100 talented, idealistic people to serve in the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Omaha and a new 4th site to be named soon.

A variety of positions may be available, including serving as a coach to high school juniors preparing to apply to college or to those already admitted and preparing for the transition. Other jobs include organizing college visits, practice exams, community service days, etc. They stress the following four points as highlights of the experience:

1.  We have 80+ socially-minded, idealistic, talented college graduates from around the country working hard towards a common goal.2.  AmeriCorps members are instrumental in the organization’s success and are making a real difference in helping make college admission and success possible for low-income students.  To date, 98% of our graduating seniors have been admitted to college.

3.  Members who serve with Admission Possible/College Possible gain understanding of the inner workings of a successful non-profit organization, and become extremely marketable for future graduate school and job endeavors.  Past members have gone on to attend graduate school at Harvard, Berkeley, and Stanford; others have pursued careers in social work, teaching, and law.

4.  Every year our AmeriCorps members become connected to an immediate social network of like-minded, idealistic recent graduates.  Past members have found some of their closest friends during their year of service.

If you’re interested or have questions (e.g., about benefits and placement), visit the College Possible website. Or get in touch with one of their coaches in the Twin Cities, former Bethel History major Lauren Peffley (’09) (e-mail her: LPeffley(at)

Second, for current Bethel students (including those who will graduate this May)… Breakthrough St. Paul. A collaboration between Mounds Park Academy in Maplewood and the St. Paul Public Schools, Breakthrough is currently recruiting college students for paid teaching internships in their summer 2012 program. Those selected will take part in an intensive nine-week program: designing and teaching courses, planning field trips and other special events, and meeting with parents.

Learn more at the Breakthrough website. The deadline for 2012 internship applications is February 27, but interviews are given on a rolling basis, so they encourage early applications.

Students can learn more about Breakthrough St. Paul by attending an informational session at Bethel: next Thursday, February 9th, 10:15-11:00am, AC 228.

MN Private College Job Fair

For current students… The annual Minnesota Private College Job and Internship Fair is February 21st and 22nd, 9am – 3pm, at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Over 150 organizations are already registered for this event (click here to see the full list of employers, or to search by types of organizations, types of position, or geographic location), and approximately 1800 students are expected to take part.

The first day of the fair students are able to meet with organizations’ representatives. Students can come for a portion of the time and do not need to spend the entire day at the fair. The second day of the fair is reserved for scheduled interviews only.

Here’s a short video introduction:

Interested? Here’s what you need to do: (from the Bethel Career Services office website)

  • Register for the event online, by email, or in the office of Career Services – CC 322 – by Feb. 17
  • Pay the $10 Registration Fee (Registration fee can be paid for at the prep session)
  • Attend a prep session: Feb. 8, 4-5pm, CC 125; Feb. 9, 4-5pm, CC 125; Feb. 14, 10-11am, CC 313; or Feb. 16, 10-11am, CC 125
  • Update your resume and consider submitting your resume on the Private College Job Fair web site

From AC 2nd to… Seminary (part 2)

Our new series “From AC 2nd to…” profiles former History majors who have followed a variety of professional and educational tracks in their post-Bethel careers.

Today we’ll conclude our interview with Seth Rima (‘09), M.Div. student in Pastoral Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. (Read part 1 here.)

What about your Bethel History major best prepared you for seminary? Is there anything you wish you had done differently in preparation for that track?

My transition into seminary has been remarkably smooth, largely due to the similarities I’ve found in preparation. If you are going to write on a topic in theology you need to find your sources, and the History track has prepared me well for the gathering of obvious sources as well as the sources that on first glance have nothing to do with the topic at hand. It’s also been helpful as I’ve worked to form theses and defend them, to know that there are several layers one has to peel back in order to get to the root of many topics. It is hardly ever right on the surface, and that is how it is oftentimes when we analyzed historical movements or the revolutions and coups that have taken place. There is always a spark, yes, but perhaps more importantly there is kindling to be lit ablaze as a result. So I guess you could say history made clear that context is crucial, so when I learned that in hermeneutics, it was only logical, and that appreciation for context has dramatically changed the way I read Scripture and apply it.

I also very much appreciated the discussion we would have and the market of ideas that would develop as time went on in classes I’ve taken from you [Chris Gehrz], AnneMarie Kooistra, and G.W. Carlson, to name a few. That has helped me not take offense when someone sees something in a different way than I do in conversation. It is much harder to harbor frustration with someone who you view as working with the same goal in mind, whether it is understanding a period or event in history, or discovering what the Bible says about faith vs. works.

I also just know the names that many of my peers aren’t quite familiar with, like Origen, Anselm, Martin Bucer, and the like.  So classes like CWC and The Reformations were just very helpful in a practical way. They provided a kind of historical and theological scaffolding that many don’t have when they decide to enter Seminary.

Do you continue to have an interest in history? How do you find yourself learning about the past now that you’re past college?

I absolutely love history still, and always will. There is just something about history that just makes it so much easier to put yourself in another person’s shoes. I love all kinds of history, whether it is sports-related, political (particularly Presidential), or ecclesiastical. I suppose it’s far too late to save myself from “nerd” status at this point, so I’ll cop to some of my modes of learning these days. I lump political geography in with history, and I have been known to play games that freshen up my memory of things like national flags, the border/shape of nations, and the location of various sites/cities on a world map. I also use a website called Sporcle to do all sorts of quizzes on anything from the roster of the 2001 Seattle Mariners, to the 50 most populous US cities, to the names of the Roman Emperors. I also enjoy reading blogs, like The Pietist Schoolman (and not just to suck up)and anything on the two World Wars, or church history, and I hope to someday keep up my own regular blog. I also have a system for reading, and historical books have their own category, so for instance the next historical work I will read is Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow.

On top of all that I have a younger brother who is like a more studious version of me, so I love talking to him about various subjects, and look forward to doing that the rest of my adult life!

Anything else you’d like to say to current or prospective students thinking about majoring in History at Bethel and/or considering going to seminary after college?

Wow, dangerous move, giving a History Major an open-ended question like this! I think majoring in history is the best decision I ever made while in college (besides asking my now-wife on that date!), because it was something I enjoyed. Beyond that though, history is such a far-reaching subject. It touches every aspect of life, because it isn’t just (as some would say) boring stuff that’s already happened, it’s the stuff that happened that has shaped the world in which we live. Having a firm grasp on history means you can talk to anyone about anything, and therefore work to understand the context that they are coming from, because Solomon was right… “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:9).

With seminary, I think it’s crucial just practically speaking to make sure you are doing your research the right way, not cutting corners, and working hard on the little things, like formatting and procuring sources. History is a great proving ground for the work aspect of seminary, so it’s a natural fit. In reality though, no one should go to seminary if they don’t really feel the call to use the information that they gain. These days it’s pretty common to hear of a grad student who
is working in a completely different field, and it works pretty well anyway. With seminary, one should be making a covenant with their seminary that they are going to take the knowledge that they gain and put it to use in the world, because the one thing the world needs desperately is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and while that mission isn’t saved just for those who go to seminary, it isn’t something that seminarians can abstain from. The Seminary education has to flow out, or it’s just stealing.

Read the next entry in the From AC 2nd… series>>

The Start of Spring (Semester)

Today, February 1st, is the start of spring semester around Bethel. Here are a few things to look for this semester on top of our usual course offerings:

The Retirement of G.W. Carlson

Long-rumored, much-feared, finally here… Yes, Spring 2012 marks the last semester of full-time teaching for G. William Carlson, Professor of History and Political Science. A search for a new professor is underway, and we’ll hope to have an announcement about a hire later this spring. But of course, no one can truly replace GW.

Look for much more at AC 2nd as we plan what promises to be a glitzy send-off for the famously shy Prof. Carlson.

The (Temporary) Absence of AnneMarie Kooistra

Our correspondent reports that Dr. Kooistra submitted her Interim grades on Monday afternoon, which means that she is officially on sabbatical, doing everything that professors wish they could do if they weren’t busy teaching classes, advising students, or serving on committees. Look for her to show up in August looking even more relaxed than usual.

The Premiere of Our First Z-Tagged Course

This semester Ruben Rivera will be offering HIS217UZ Hispanic Christianity (formerly: Christianity in Latin America), which he has revised to meet the “Z-tag” requirement in Bethel’s general education curriculum. The goal of such courses is that “students will experience an off-campus person-to-person (ideally one-on-one) intercultural engagement, of at least 25 hours with a specific cultural group that supports the development of awareness of one’s own culture and the culture with which the student is interacting. Students will develop an increased understanding of the complexity and tension cultural difference has on interaction with others.” In this case, students in Hispanic Christianity will perform service-learning projects with Hispanic churches or faith-based organizations in the Twin Cities.

The Bethel Colloquium on Pietism Studies

Three years after Bethel hosted a national research conference on Pietism, we’ve organized a follow-up colloquium on Pietism studies — Friday, April 20, 2012 — that’s free and open to the public. Featuring talks by Scot McKnight and Jon Sensbach and a roundtable discussion of Pietism in various denominations, this event is being coordinated by our own Chris Gehrz and theology prof Christian Collins Winn (with G.W. Carlson and Eric Holst, editors of the recently published The Pietist Impulse in Christianity). The links above will take you to further details at Chris’ blog.