Research That Matters

Academic research typically begins with a question that defines the researcher's area of investigation. No two such projects are alike; each has its own guiding query, its own purpose, and its own methodology. The research questions posed by Seattle Pacific University faculty members, though they differ widely, reflect the unique perspectives of Christian scholars. Whether the purpose is to explore more fully some aspect of God's revelation and creation, or to positively affect individuals, society or the church, the SPU researcher is known for pursuing scholarship that is both disciplined and meaningful.

What Is the Mind-Soul Controversy?

Assistant Professor of Psychology Kathleen Lustyk researches stress, especially as it affects women's health. Nevertheless, she departed from her specialty last quarter when asked to give a talk in chapel about mind and soul. In her investigations, Lustyk found as many questions as answers.

Scientists are now able to view the active human brain and more accurately measure its chemical activity, as well as how the brain works during behavioral and emotional events. Lustyk notes that a new philosophy has emerged from these discoveries which claims that the mind is the active brain.

"This philosophy becomes problematic if we look at the history of the mind," says Lustyk. "In Descartes' early thinking on the subject, he equated the mind with the soul. In fact, many 'mind' functions, such as consciousness and regulation of feeling, have been considered to be in the domain of the soul. But what happens to the soul if we adhere to a reductionist philosophy?"

She saw two major problems in the scientific explorations of this question. "I found that there seems to be a lack of consensus on a conceptional definition of the soul. In consulting with my colleagues in the School of Religion, I learned that the term is inherently ambiguous and is actually being translated out of the Bible."

There is also the problem of answering "why" questions about brain activity. "Neuroscience does an excellent job of explaining how the brain works in generating behavior, but not why it works," Lustyk says. "Aside from a few areas, answers to the why questions are not directly observable and therefore not measurable."

Lustyk believes there is much to learn about the mystery of the mind. "This unknown begs for exploration of factors other than cellular events playing a role in mind."

How Can We Promote Peace?

For many years, Professor of Psychology Micheal Roe has been attempting to unravel the complex threads of persistent political violence, especially as it exists in Northern Ireland. Assisted by psychology students Jennifer Bennett and Jason Lenius, Roe's current effort is leading a multinational study of people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as Irish immigrants in Australia and the U.S.

"Our goal is to find out what has maintained the violence in Northern Ireland," Roe explains. "We're trying to understand how selective ethnic memories are passed on to the next generation, even after individuals have left the homeland." At the 1998 American Psychological Association convention in August, he will chair a symposium which presents the study's preliminary findings.

Although some believe the tragedy of Northern Ireland is a religious war, Roe does not agree. "The antagonism relates more to conflicting social identities associated with opposing political agendas than to religion," he says. "The long history of conflict has lead to the emergence of Catholics and Protestants as distinct ethnic groups with distinct ethnic memories."

Roe hopes to follow up with a larger study, building on previous research which suggests that social justice and personal forgiveness are the ultimate solutions to long-standing conflicts. "There's a difference between amnesty and forgiveness," he notes. "Amnesty is a political decision, but forgiveness means giving up the bitterness and seeing the victimizer as a fellow human being. I suspect lasting peace has to come from the grassroots level."

How Can Scholarship Serve the Church?

Last month's gathering of scholars at Tennessee's Church of God Theological Seminary was historic. For the first time ever, scholars from the Wesleyan Theological Society and Society for Pentecostal Studies came together for discussion and reflection.

Among those invited to present papers at this unprecedented meeting was Rob Wall, professor of biblical studies at Seattle Pacific University. His paper on the integral themes of purity and power in the Book of Acts presented a Wesleyan interpretation of a biblical writing that Pentecostals consider one of the most important in the Bible and that believers from the Wesleyan holiness tradition also value in an elevated and special way. Wall says that "Acts functions differently for each tradition, but both Pentecostals and Wesleyans value the book for its emphasis on the empowering and purifying work of the Holy Spirit."

Wall notes that the meeting received attention from the religious media "because it brought together for the first time scholars from two prominent but 'marginalized' groups within evangelicalism." Even though Wesleyans and especially Pentecostals have great influence in the "two-thirds" world, Wall explains that "many evangelicals ignore us because we understand religious authority differently, and emphasize sanctification as the mark of God's grace within the believer."

This conference may have positive results well into the future, including collaboration between the two societies of scholars. "We want our faith traditions to bear fruit," Wall says. "I think the focus of this conference was to build better ideas to strengthen the whole church of God."

How Do We Teach Ethics?

At Seattle Pacific University, it's not enough to teach computer science. Students must also recognize ethical dilemmas that spin out of technology and how to resolve them.

That conviction led Elaine Weltz to devote a recent research sabbatical to the question of how best to teach ethics in the discipline of computer science. "I looked at ethical issues in the industry, and then I looked at our curriculum to see if we were preparing students to deal with these things," says the assistant professor.

Currently there is a senior elective course in which students directly consider the social impact of technology, but we can do better, believes Weltz. "This isn't well integrated into the curriculum anywhere in the nation," she notes. "As a Christian university, we should lead the way."

To that end, Weltz has developed a model of integrating ethics into coursework, beginning with the first quarter of the freshman year. "My approach is to spread this throughout the four years," she says. "Teach awareness first; then the skills of dealing with ethical dilemmas; and finally, show students how to take action."

Weltz's ideas have caught the attention of a national association for computing professionals and together they're developing a national standard on the subject. "We want students to understand what's at stake, and once they've graduated to be able to make good choices," she says.

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