Campus News

April 5, 2010

Pierce program connects the two Oxfords

David Gowler (left) and Christopher Rowland presenting the Pierce Visiting Scholar proposal at Oxford University.

Sometimes the most obvious ideas are the ones most easily overlooked. Connecting Oxford College with Oxford University is an obvious idea that was finally seized upon a few years ago, and the result is the Pierce Visiting Scholar Program, an academic exchange that has enriched both institutions.

Each year the Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement designates one faculty member from Oxford University and one from Oxford College as Pierce Visiting Scholars. The Oxford University scholar comes to Oxford College during the academic year for at least one week, giving public lectures, usually on both the Oxford and Emory campuses; teaching classes and meeting with groups of both students and faculty. His or her Oxford College counterpart serves as on-campus host during the stay and in turn travels to Oxford University for lectures and teaching, hosted by the Oxford University designee.

The Pierce Visiting Scholar for 2010 is Jane Shaw, dean of divinity, chaplain and fellow of New College, Oxford.  An ordained Anglican priest, she is a reader in church history, lectures on 19th-century Christian thought and practice and directs a research project on modern prophecy movements.  During a visit in late March, she lectured at Oxford College on modern mysticism, spoke at Candler School of Theology and led a service in Cannon Chapel.

Shaw’s host was Eve Mullen, assistant professor of religion at Oxford College, whose areas of expertise include Tibetan Buddhism in America, Asian religious traditions and religion's role in identity construction.  Mullen will travel later this year to Oxford University.

The exchange with Oxford University is the brainchild of David Gowler, Pierce Professor of Religion at Oxford College and director of the Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement.

While in graduate school, Gowler had studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, with biblical scholar Christopher Rowland. The two reconnected when Gowler taught in London in 1999 and Rowland had moved to Queen’s College, Oxford.  Subsequently, when Rowland attended an international conference in Atlanta in 2003, Gowler invited the don to come to Oxford College to lecture, and afterward it occurred to Gowler that an exchange of scholars from “the two Oxfords” could be a permanent program sponsored by the Pierce Institute. He and Rowland began working on the idea in their respective institutions.

Arrangements were finalized in 2005, when an official agreement establishing the Pierce Visiting Scholar Program was signed by Provost Earl Lewis of Emory and Vice-Chancellor John Hood of the University of Oxford.

This exchange has brought together scholars in a variety of disciplines, including theology, ethics, art history and literature.

Gretchen Schulz, Oxford College professor of English and the 2009 designee, says, “David Gowler has done a wonderful job of identifying visitors who combine enormous expertise in their subject matters with ability to handle their subjects in ways that give them enormous appeal for non-experts as well as experts.”

Schulz recently returned from Oxford University, where her host was Tiffany Stern.  Stern, a Shakespearean scholar and internationally known expert on the history of performance in Shakespeare’s time, lectured at Oxford and Emory colleges last spring and led the actors of the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern through a Renaissance-style rehearsal.

This once-overlooked idea has become a vital and anticipated part of academic life on the Oxford College campus. The Pierce Institute is dedicated to continuing the Visiting Scholars Program as an important exchange of ideas for both Oxfords.

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  • Ties since 1836
    The symbolic tie to transatlantic Oxford began when Emory College was established in 1836. The founders, Methodist clergy and laypersons, acquired land not only for the college but also for a surrounding town. They named the town Oxford in honor of the university where John and Charles Wesley, pillars of Methodism, had studied. After Emory College moved to Atlanta, the original campus was called Oxford College.