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Autumn 2004 | Volume 27, Number 4 | Features

A Literary Laboratory

Reinsma Guides University Scholars in Exploring the World’s Great Texts

English professor, but in his new role as chair of the University Scholars program at Seattle Pacific, he’s working with chemistry.

University Scholars is a “laboratory” in which academically gifted students combine sometimes volatile texts and examine them through different lenses, observing what Reinsma calls “the conversation these texts have with each other.” Rather than reading about the works, students plunge directly into a mix of ancient and contemporary texts by Plato, Homer, Thucydides, Chinua Achebe, Umberto Eco, and others. Team-taught by professors from a variety of disciplines such as English, art, music, theology, and science, some of SPU’s brightest students enjoy conversations that help them integrate faith and the life of the mind.

Reinsma and students recently put Shuzaku Endo’s novel Silence under the microscope, exploring the complex relationship between Christianity and Japan’s history and culture. “Traditionally,” says Reinsma, “we view the work of the missionary as bringing what we know to people who do not know it. Increasingly, we’re beginning to understand that mission work — or ‘engaging the culture’ — might be a kind of dialogue rather than a monologue, so that we’re not talking at others, but talking with them. Silence is very much about that issue.”

This principle is close to Reinsma’s heart. He endeavors to teach with rather than at his students, providing classes that are “not so much about information as about formation and discovery.” He explains, “I want to suggest to students that being a Christian is more like a journey than a goal.”

Every year, a senior exemplifying the ideals of University Scholars receives the Wesley E. Lingren Award. Lingren (who was, appropriately, chair of the Chemistry Department) created the program 34 years ago. Since then, Janet Blumberg, Susan VanZanten Gallagher, and now Reinsma, have taken the wheel. A 15-year veteran of University Scholars teaching, Reinsma says that his former role was to serve as a piece of a grand puzzle, but this new leadership responsibility lets him try his hand at “assembling extraordinarily exciting puzzle pieces into a satisfying whole.”

Reinsma’s skill as a professor was recognized this fall when he received the 2004 Washington Professor of the Year award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Says Gallagher, “I’m leaving the honors students and faculty in wise and wonderful hands. In evaluations for a recent course Luke taught, the two recurring words that students used were ‘passion’ and ‘caring.’”Those are two words Reinsma applies to University Scholars students as well. “The ones I remember are those who are still asking questions, still reading good books,” he says. “My hope is that the Scholars leave the program with a sizeable list of things they cannot wait to read.”

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