Tag Archives: University of Northwestern

Welcome, Jonathan Loopstra!

Earlier this academic year, the History Department at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul learned that our esteemed historian of Ancient History, Dr. Charles Aling, would be retiring in May. We will be celebrating Dr. Aling’s career next month.

Dr. Aling’s retirement, though, meant that Northwestern’s History Department needed a new historian of the Ancient World. After conducting a national (and even international) search, I am pleased to announce our new hire: Dr. Jonathan Loopstra.

Dr. Loopstra is an expert in the Church of the East, the Church that developed in the Middle East and stretched farther east. As a linguist, he has great capabilities with Syriac, the language which gave voice to the Church’s worship and culture. Dr. Loopstra will teach Ancient History classes at Northwestern. He also brings additional strengths. Having lived and even taught in the Middle East for several years, Professor Loopstra will be able to connect the Ancient Middle East and the Modern Middle East, a class he will be developing at Northwestern. Further, Dr. Loopstra will bring a developed specialty in Digital History and Humanities to share with our students. Finally, he will complement the department’s decided strength in the History of Christianity.

As an added bonus, Dr. Loopstra is a Northwestern alumnus. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Oxford University, and the Catholic University of America. Professor Loopstra joins our faculty after stints at the International Center for the Study of the Christian Orient (Grenada, Spain), Reformed Theological Seminary, the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, and Capital University in Ohio.

Welcome, Jonathan!


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Historical Fan Art

Before this semester is too far gone, I wanted to share a piece of Student Fan Art that a student produced last spring.

It envisions the History faculty at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul as Comic Book heroes, “The Doctors.”

That would be historian of Russia Matthew Miller as “The Czar.” Historian of Ancient and Medieval History Clyde Billington (now retired) shows up as “The Knight.” Our Egyptian specialist Charles Aling is “The Pharaoh.” And yes, yours truly is a Captain-America inspired “The General.”

One can only imagine what types of adventures these heroes will embark upon, but I can guess they will be to slay historical ignorance and help set the world aright.

Thanks, Ben W., for your creativity!

The Doctors2

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Teaching U.S. Religious History

This fall, one of my courses (as I pointed out below), is “U.S. Religious History,” which I sometimes refer to as “Religion in American History.” This is one of my favorite courses, and I’ve seen really great results come from the course. Students usually find themselves challenged, but I know the material sticks with them. (For instance, my students always find out who the Niebuhr brothers were. Oh, that’s H. Richard and Reinhold, in case you were wondering.)

I had a chance to reflect on my teaching content and methods this month over at the Religion in American History Blog. (hint: follow the link!)

Maybe you’ll want to pick up some of the books I mention. And maybe you’ll just have to encourage someone you know to come to Northwestern and take the course from me!

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Hello, Digital Symposium!

My, my.

Last week I highlighted an op-ed by a former student, this week I get to introduce an entire website!

A group of current and former Northwestern students have set up “The Digital Symposium.” The editor, Jacob Wolf, describes the endeavor this way:

We are a group of individuals with an interest in the liberal arts who are committed to seeking a depth of understanding in all that we do and think.  We have launched this blog to begin a conversation about ideas, for like Richard Weaver, we emphatically assert that “ideas have consequences.”  This blog is a means for us to sharpen our thinking through the art of writing, to engage in conversation/dialectic to “rightfully divide the truth,” and to spark anew (or rekindle) in our readers a passion for the good, the true, and the beautiful.

And, as if that’s not enough, let me also quote Wolf’s conclusion:

As we christen The Digital Symposium (and lives devoted to intellectual excellence and virtue), may it be said of us as was once recounted of Basil the Great, that the galleons of our lives be “laden with all the learning attainable by the nature of man.”

Not only does Wolf has a nice introductory piece, there is also an essay on The Great Gatsby and the American Dream presently up. I have no doubt more meaty stuff is still to follow.

It’s great to see students carry on an interest in the liberal arts and join the conversation. Again, historical training offers tremendous ways for thinking about the big questions–the questions that urgently need to be addressed in the present world.

So again, check out The Digital Symposium!

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Constitution Day 2013

September 17 is Constitution Day in the United States. On September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention approved the draft of the Constitution that would be sent to the states for ratification. The Convention thereby kicked off, not only the debates over ratification (which resulted in the Constitution’s establishment as the supreme law of the land), but the continuing debates over the meaning and interpretation of the Constitution.

By law (thanks, Sen. Byrd!), institutions of higher learning are expected to observe Constitution Day in some way.

This year, at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, we hosted Dr. Ryan MacPherson, Associate Professor of History at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota.

Dr. Ryan MacPherson

Dr. MacPherson delivered an outstanding address built around the theme “7 Things Every College (or University) Student Ought to Know.” I suspect Dr. MacPherson would assert that all citizens–with degrees or without–should know these points, too.

In the interest of some public education, then, here are Dr. MacPherson’s 7 points:

1. The U.S. Constitution is a written document. Not a lived tradition, like the British constitutional system.

2. The U.S. Constitution was designed for a republic, not for a democracy. MacPherson distinguished between representatives governing for the common good, rather than having sheer numbers determining all questions.

3. The framers of the U.S. Constitution shared a common tradition of natural law, supportive of natural rights. I thought this was a good formulation that sought to connect “natural law” discourse with Lockean “natural rights” talk.

4. The U.S. Constitution was unique in separating the three powers of government. The framers were great fans of Montesquieu, the French theorist, who advocated separating legislative, executive, and judicial power. The U.S. Constitution divided these powers even more than did Great Britain, which Montesquieu had praised in his Spirit of the Laws.

5. The framers of the U.S. Constitution purposefully designed the electoral college. MacPherson offered a spirited defense of the electoral college, which I appreciated. A parallel that MacPherson used that seemed appropriate: “If you believe the World Series is fair for baseball, then you should believe the electoral college is fair for presidential elections.” There, the emphasis is on games won, not cumulative score. So, with the presidency, the goal is to win states. MacPherson did allow that the electoral system could be tweaked to proportion electors according to congressional district, rather than winner-take-all.

6. Over time, the U.S. Constitution has become less federal and more national. Here, MacPherson spent a lot of time explaining the effects of the Incorporation Doctrine of the 14th Amendment.

7. The U.S. Constitution remains a monument to humanity’s quest for ordered liberty. MacPherson asserted his belief that the Constitution provided for a fruitful balance of order and liberty. He concluded by challenging the audience to take up the responsibility of being custodians of American liberty.

Dr. MacPherson has posted his excellent hand-out and an earlier version of the talk on his personal website, here. It’s well worth your time to listen to it.

Also, I’m sure Dr. MacPherson would be happy to come speak in other venues. He offers a great presentation.

For commentators, what do you make of those 7 points?

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