Faculty Faces: Dr. Robert Williamson

DR. ROBERT WILLIAMSON, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES:

I'm the biblical studies person in the Religious Studies Department. My Ph.D. is in Hebrew Bible, so I naturally work on what Christians would call the Old Testament side of things. At Hendrix, I also teach New Testament, I teach ancient Judaism, Israelite history and things like that.

I actually didn't start out as a religious studies person. When I was an undergraduate, I was a chemical engineering major. So, I actually have a degree, a B.S. in chemical engineering. After I graduated I took an internship in a little Presbyterian campus ministry at Wofford College in South Carolina. Working with college students, I sort of decided that I wanted to be around college campuses, at that point I thought as a campus minister. When I went to seminary then, to go into ministry, my professors encourage me toward the teaching side of things. I love the language, I love interpretation, I love teaching. So, it was through the encouragement of my professors that I ended up doing my Ph.D.

One of the things I have loved about teaching at Hendrix is the diversity of students that are in my classroom. I have students who are Religious Studies majors, of course, but then actually most other students in my classroom, especially in my intro courses will be from different majors, and different backgrounds, and have different approaches even to the study of religion. So, in one classroom, I’ll have students who are very a conservative Christian, or students who grew up Jewish, or students who have no religious commitments, or even students who are anti-religion. My job is to get all of those people into a classroom and get them to have a conversation about the Bible. There's a real richness to that conversation, I think, because that diversity of perspectives challenge ... the students challenge each other and challenge me.

Odyssey is one of the most exciting parts of being at Hendrix, I think, in that opportunities for out-of-classroom experiences are really rich. I do some engaged learning in my classes currently. My Revelation and Resistance class spends a fair amount of time outside of class engaging people are on the street and at the mall. I have dreams about what I'll do with Odyssey. I'd love to see my history class – Ancient Israelite History – take a trip to the Middle East and see archaeological sites see the places where the history of Israel unfolded, and study in that way.

Also, we're very involved with the work of the Miller Center. So, one of the things that I've really enjoy here is the opportunity to be a Miller Center participant and now member on the board. I took a trip with the Miller Center to Philadelphia last year. These are trips the Miller Center takes – four trips a year, I think it is – to different parts of the world. On my trip, we went to Philadelphia, ten students, and myself, and Toni Jaudon in the English department. We were in Philadelphia, serving around the city, doing some urban agriculture, and working with a homeless population, and clothing services, and things like that. So, getting a chance to see what life is like in the urban setting and trying to introduce students the importance of service by way of thinking about what they want to do with their lives.

I really see maintaining the connection to the church as part of what I do at Hendrix, and that church connection is very important to me. So, I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, I’m married to another ordained Presbyterian minister, and I spend a fair amount of time during the year teaching the Bible in churches. So, I will go to a congregation and spend four, six or eight weeks leading a study. Right now, teaching at First Methodist in Little Rock, a series on the wisdom literature, and I'll teach at Second Presbyterian Church later.

I also am faculty advisor for a group of students on campus called the Bonhoeffer House. This is an intentional community of Christian students who live together in apartments off campus and try to engage in spiritual practices: prayer, hospitality, scripture reading and discernment. So, I am the faculty sponsor for them and I meet with them once a week. We have dinner together and talk about theology.