St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf professors release new book examining vocation in the liberal arts

ClaimingOurCallings300x453A collection of essays written by 14 St. Olaf College faculty members will be published by Oxford University Press next month.

The book, titled Claiming Our Callings: Toward a New Understanding of Vocation in the Liberal Arts, brings together individual stories from faculty members. Each reflects on both his or her calling as a professor and practice in fostering students’ understanding of their own vocations. Together they demonstrate how the purposes of their own lives intersect creatively with the purposes of higher education and the needs of their students and the world.

Faculty members from departments ranging from biology and economics to history and religion contributed to the project, which Professor of Religion and Department Chair DeAne Lagerquist says reflects the collaborative nature of St. Olaf.

“There is a kind of shared core both of how we understand our work and our passion for teaching,” Lagerquist says. “We are connected by our passions, but the differences are in our disciplines.”

The inclusion of varying academics also allows faculty members to describe how their field of study contributes to understanding vocation.

One such example is the chapter written by Associate Professor of Economics Mark Pernecky. His essay, titled “Forty-Three and Out: On the Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards of a Vocation,” discusses — in economic terms — the fulfillment found in both his work as a professor as well as in his work as an amateur jazz musician.

“[Pernecky] reminds us that life is more than livelihood,” Lagerquist says. “But he doesn’t say that livelihood doesn’t matter. It’s livelihood, but not only livelihood.”

Vocational narrative
Claiming Our Callings serves as the final defined outcome of the grants St. Olaf received from the Lily Endowment Program, which aided students, faculty, staff, and alumni in their discernment and reflection on vocation.

The book follows a narrative structure as essays are divided into sections that mirror the three major steps of a Lutheran vocation experience.

As Visiting Professor of English Kaethe Schwehn notes in the introduction, the first section, titled “Call,” contains essays that offer ideological frameworks for thinking about vocation; the second section, “Conversation,” teases out the implications for teaching vocation (or learning about vocation) within specific disciplines; and the final section, “Response,” is filled with both practical and personal ways to act out the idea of vocation.

Lagerquist and Schwehn, who served as the book’s editors, predict that its primary audience will be faculty interested in exploring their own ideas, ideals, and assumptions about the art of teaching in the 21st century. However, they hope students will also use the essays as they embark on careers that do not relate in an obvious way to their chosen majors.

“The recognition of vocation as a responsiveness to our neighbor’s needs is inherent in a Lutheran Christian understanding of vocation,” Lagerquist says. “That’s deep in St. Olaf’s culture — going back to the earliest years of the college.”