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Speaker at Davidson Will Discuss Spiritual Search for "Vocation"

By Mario Prohasky '05

October 9, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

James Fowler
James Fowler

Is it still possible to find joy and meaning in work? James Fowler, Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, will try to answer that question in two lectures at Davidson College on October 25 and 26.

On Thursday, Oct. 25, he will speak at 8 p.m. in the Belk Visual Arts Center on "You Bet Your Life: The Possibilities and Challenges of Practical Postmodern Faith." On Friday, Oct. 26, at 3 p.m. in the Gallery Room of Chambers Building he will address "Gifts, Joy, Meaning: Does Vocation Still Make Sense?" The public is invited to both talks, and there is no admission charge.

The lectures are an initiative by Davidson's new Lilly Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation. As the name suggests, the program hopes to help people find spiritual meaning in their work. According to Tim Beach-Verhey, director of the program, "Our aim is to encourage people to think about the relationship between what they do in life and the true meaning of their vocation."

In addition to sponsorship of lectures throughout the year, the Lilly program is organizing congregation-based seminars for churches, small group discussions for students and alumni, and major off-campus retreats for sophomore students.

Fowler will be appearing at Davidson on "Family Weekend," when many students' parents and siblings will be visiting campus. The date for his talk was purposely coordinated with that event, Beach-Verhey said, because the issues he will discuss are pertinent to all members of society.

On Thursday evening his talk will examine "the shapes of faith" using categories employed by theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr--anomic faith, heteronomous faith, autonomous faith, and theonomous faith. He will illustrate each category with one of four recent popular movies--"Pollock," "The Sopranos," "Castaway," and "Chocolat."

His lecture on Friday will focus on the relationship between work and vocation in the 21st century. Fowler will acknowledge that many people feel that work in today's world does not possess any spiritual joy or meaning, and he will suggest ways of recovering values of vocation which have been neglected by modern society.

Fowler received his bachelor's degree from Duke University, and a master's degree from the Drew University Theological Seminary. In 1971 he earned his Ph.D. in religion and society at Harvard. The main focus of his studies was the relation between ethics and sociology of religion.

Before joining the faculty of the Candler School of Theology in 1977, he conducted post-doctoral studies at the Center for Moral Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and taught at Harvard Divinity School and Boston College.

In 1994 he was appointed as the first full time director of the Center of Ethical Studies at Emory, and he is now in his second term in that position. He continues to teach in the Candler School of Theology, and also directs the Person, Community, and Religious Practices Program of its graduate division of religion. He is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.

Fowler's teaching career has been complemented by work as a scholar. He has conducted pioneering research in the development of the theory of faith, and has written several books. His best known book, currently in its 35th edition, is entitled: Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. It has been translated into at least a half-dozen foreign languages. His most recent book, Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life, was published in 1996. Four volumes of critical discussion of Fowler's research and theory have emerged from national and international seminars devoted to his work.

As a result of his extensive scholarly contribution in the fields of ethics and vocation, Fowler received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1999. He is also a recipient of the Oscar Pfitser Award from the American Psychiatric Association "for distinguished contributions to mutual understanding between religion and psychiatry," and the American Psychological Association's William James Award "in recognition of outstanding and sustained contributions to the psychology of religion."

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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