Writing and Scholarship

My greatest impact in the profession has been in a non-traditional form of the scholarship of teaching and learning, including (but not limited to) explorations of the use of instructional technology. My work in this area flows directly out of my classroom experience. The result of my reflection on a number of issues in my teaching, such as problem-solving, how and why to introduce students to technology, using digital tools for keeping track of research, etc., has been a significant number of essays dealing with precisely these issues.

The outlet for these essays has been ProfHacker, a collaborative blog now hosted at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website. The blog’s significance and impact on the profession have been far greater than I could ever have imagined when my first post ran just prior to the blog’s official launch as an independent site on September 9, 2009. By that date, we had already received more than 20,000 page views since the unofficial launch in late July of that year. By the time we moved to the Chronicle in April 2010, our work had received 308,901 page views. Since then, our readership has only continued to grow.

In addition to gaining a very wide readership, ProfHacker has received recognition from the academic community, being named a co-winner of the John Lovas Memorial Weblog Award for Best Academic Weblog by the journal Kairos in 2010. It has also been cited as an inspiration for the creation of at least three other online academic projects: Hack Library School, GradHacker, and Play the Past.

This far-reaching impact on academia has come about as the result of team effort; were it not for the strong sense of collaboration among the ProfHacker writers, the blog would not be so successful. That said, my own posts have had significant influence and generated considerable discussion; my recent (August 24, 2011) “Integrating a Digital Project into a Class” is one example.

Page views, of course, are only one measure of significance. Another measure is the degree to which other scholars make use of one’s work in their own, acknowledging that use through citation. Though ProfHacker is only just over two years old, two of my posts have already been cited in pieces appearing in peer-reviewed journals.  “Modeling Civility and Use of Evidence in the Classroom” (May 13, 2010) has been cited in the Journal of Legal Studies Education[1. Murphy, Tonia. 2011. “Editor’s Corner: Civility in the Classroom.” Journal of Legal Studies Education 28 (1): v-x.], and “Preventing Plagiarism” (June 11, 2010) in PS: Political Science & Politics.[2. Morgan, Phoebe, and Jacqueline Vaughn. 2010. “The Case of the Pilfered Paper: Implications of Online Writing Assistance and Web-Based Plagiarism Detection Services.” PS: Political Science & Politics 43 (4) (October): 755-758.]

I have also, of course, been active in more traditional forms of scholarship. I recently (in June 2011) submitted an article to The Review of Politics, titled “Tradition Literacy and Democratic Dialogue: Fostering Commitment to the Democratic Charter.” Though the readers at that publication thought the article was too narrowly focused for their particular readership, they thought that (with minor revisions), it would be appropriate for a journal such as Logos (the article focuses on a practical application of Jacques Maritain’s thought to the problem of pluralism). I agree with their assessment of the article’s suitability for Logos, and plan to submit it there in the next several weeks (I first need to remove one small section, and add a section which takes into account an article by Emile Lester and Patrick S. Roberts which appeared in a recent issue of Politics and Religion).

This article reflects where my disciplinary interests lie: at the intersection of Political Science, Philosophy, and Theology. Those interests find their origin in my dissertation, but go well beyond it. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my research interests began in personal experience, were initially fleshed out in my dissertation, and have expanded in the years since.

The relationship between religion and politics has long fascinated me. I am especially interested in normative and theoretical questions, particularly those that arise when considering that relationship as experienced in a pluralist liberal society. How should religion and politics relate to one another in a pluralist democracy? How ought religious believers to conduct themselves in public political life? Is it possible for believers of different faiths (and those professing no faith) to cooperate in the public sphere? How? Must they set their religious convictions aside in order to cooperate effectively? Some scholars, such as John Rawls, have argued that they should, at least in some situations. If not, what might the interaction among those of various traditions look like, and how can dialogue be conducted in a way that respects all parties?

I am convinced that religious convictions often form a critical part of a person’s political attitudes as well as his or her identity; they cannot easily be set aside when entering the realm of politics and political dialogue. Nor am I convinced that they should be; asking citizens to set aside their religious convictions as the price of admission to the political arena is asking them to be less than who they fully are if they want to participate. But if citizens bring their religious convictions with them when they come to the table of political dialogue, how can they work effectively with those who do not share their faith? Is it possible for citizens in a pluralist society to bring their deepest convictions into political life while still showing respect for those of other traditions? Can they even communicate meaningfully?

This question has a personal dimension for me, for two reasons. First, I am not of the same faith tradition as the rest of my family, so I fairly often find myself having to “translate” across traditions to avoid common misunderstandings. Second, I have spent significant time living in a society outside the United States that is likewise characterized by substantial pluralism (Uganda). That experience, combined with the observation that religiously motivated politics is not going to disappear from public life anytime soon, fuels my interest in finding ways to improve communication and (hopefully!) generate common ground between citizens of different traditions.

I first began trying to sort out these questions in my dissertation which, though it involved substantial historical research, was primarily a theoretical work drawing on the writings of philosophers and legal scholars (principally John Rawls, Michael J. Perry, Kent Greenawalt, Robert Audi, and Thomas Kuhn). In the years since, I have shifted toward more explicitly theological concerns, with a focus on the practicalities involved in finding common ground between different faith traditions. (An example is a paper I presented on the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.) Though I still wrestle with the same sorts of questions that began my career, I find myself casting the net wider in an attempt to answer them. My work has been well-received; it has generated substantial discussion at professional meetings (the Midwest Political Science Association, especially), and fellow scholars in the discipline have encouraged me to continue in the direction I’m moving.

This is a lightly edited version of the statement I submitted as part of my portfolio for tenure and promotion in October 2011.