Posts by Mark Hutchinson
This is the third in a series of posts considering the Covid-19 pandemic from the perspective of the various ‘aspects’ proposed by reformational philosophy. Last week Alicia Smith considered the religious aspect of the pandemic – the way it has revealed the underlying influence of religious attitudes and priorities on collective thought and action. This week, I’m focussing on the aesthetic aspect, and asking: what has the pandemic revealed about our views of art, play and beauty?
We enter Holy Week this year just a few days after the year-anniversary of the UK's first lockdown. What a difference a year makes. It's become a staple of the national conversation in recent weeks to observe the transformation in attitudes, plans and expectations from last March up to now, the way that the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has at different moments served to unify and divide, to trigger outpourings of love and of anger, to inspire creativity and provoke dread or despair.
Image: my laptop – I've been spending a lot of time here lately...
Like many who are not schoolteachers, NHS staff or other key workers, in these recent weeks I have been getting used to spending most of my time at home, getting very acquainted with Zoom and the various tools we are using for online teaching at the university where I work. It’s been quite enlightening (and at times quite shocking!) to see how this period of enforced restriction has affected my sense of time: little jobs can stretch out to fill a whole day, and often I will look at the clock (or the calendar!) and be startled to see how much time has passed. On the other hand, many of the 'urgent but not important' administrative work that has often filled my day as an academic has been put on hiatus, and this has given a quieter, more reflective colour to much of my time.
A few months ago I passed a milestone in my own post-PhD academic life, by starting a full-time academic contract. For several years I'd been juggling two part-time contracts at neighbouring universities, adding up to roughly full-time hours and with a higher than usual concentration of teaching, so in terms of raw time commitment the move to a full-time job didn't seem particularly daunting. Instead, over the months leading up to the shift, I grew increasingly excited at the prospect of leaving behind the 'juggling' aspects of part-time work and being able to focus on one set of responsibilities – even including some time to dedicate to research again.
Image: 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' by Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893). Image freely available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jesus_washing_Peter%27s_feet.jpg. Image slightly cropped.
‘Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”’ (Mark 9:35)
Looking outside as I write this, I see that the nights are drawing in and there’s the beginnings of a chill in the air, which can mean only one thing: autumn term is nearly upon us. Inevitably, then, the minds of many academics will fast be turning away from ongoing research projects or thoughts of a holiday (or a kind of tug-of-war between both these things, as Georgina described so well in July), and towards the returning students and the task of teaching. In that spirit, I wanted to share something I’ve been reflecting on over the summer that has challenged me in the way I think about my own role as a lecturer.
In this post I’d like to reflect on a tension that I consider to be quite widespread within academia. ‘Critical thinking’ is often extolled as one of the core virtues necessary for the intellectual life: much university-level teaching is geared towards developing this skill, and it is viewed as foundational for effective research. This is all right and proper, in one sense: it’s important that we provide a space where received wisdom can be questioned, hidden motives probed and new ideas put to the test – increasingly important in an era of ‘fake news’ and widespread mistrust of ‘expertise’ in diverse fields.
'Where do you see yourself in five years' time?' It's a classic interview question – and one which I'm very glad I've not (yet) been asked. Have you ever been tempted to answer it with 'If it is the Lord's will, I will live and do this or that' (James 4:15)?