Union faculty members gathered at the 2016 Spring Pew Luncheon to celebrate the achievements of last year’s Pew Research Grant recipients, Jason Crawford, assistant professor of English, and Jennifer Gruenke, associate professor of biology. The luncheon was held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Carl Grant Event Center, where the recipients presented reports on their individual uses for the grant and the progress they’ve made so far.
Crawford, who specializes in medieval and early modern literature, began his talk, “Disenchantment and Literary Form,” by providing some background for the term disenchantment. Many people use the word as a synonym for modernity, a set of movements that occurred during the 16th century, out of which emerged the solitary individual, the bureaucratic state, and the mechanistic universe. The term disenchantment is based on the assumption that after the modernity movements, the superstitions and fantastical beliefs so deeply rooted in European culture were no longer prevalent in literature.
“We think about modernity in negative terms,” Crawford said. “It’s the way our narratives tend to go.”
After extensive research on 13th to 17th century narratives, Crawford discusses in his new book, Allegory and Enchantment, whether modern literary giants such as Shakespeare and Dante stepped away from or held onto enchantment ideals.
Crawford’s upcoming project is another book on the development of dramatic comedy and the difference Christianity and modernity make in comedic plays.
Gruenke used her research grant to publish two papers, one on reductionism and the other on brain and spiritual activity. For her talk, “The Brain and Spiritual Experience,” she shared the findings for her second paper.
Many in the scientific field are of the atheistic opinion that what people claim to be spiritual experiences are merely created within the brain (hallucinations). As a result, Christians tend to automatically reject the idea that spiritual experiences have anything to do with brain activity. However, Gruenke offered a scientific compromise to both views. She concluded that while spiritual experiences aren’t initiated within the brain, the brain does have the ability to uniquely sense and respond to the spiritual. But just because the brain is capable of detecting spiritual activity, doesn’t mean it always does.
“If someone has never had a spiritual experience, it might be because they lack that particular part of the brain (a sort of blindness), or it might be that they never properly exercise to develop that part of the brain, or it could also be that God has chosen not to speak to them in the way that He has spoken to some,” Gruenke said. “Brain activity cannot be set aside as unimportant to spiritual life.”
In the future, Gruenke plans to publish a book that will include the research and findings from her two recent papers.
Hal Poe, Charles Colson professor of faith and culture and chair of the research committee, said each year Union’s administration assesses the budget to determine the number of Pew Research Grant awards that will be given.
“The Pew Grant began in the late 1990s and is an award of $4,500 to help a member of the faculty pursue a research project,” Poe said.
Next year, there will be three recipients: Karen Martin, professor of language; Randall Bush, university professor of philosophy; and Luna Bennett, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences.