It is 5:28 am and my train has just departed from Berlin’s main station en route to Mainz in Rheinland-Pfalz. The transit normally takes about five hours (with one or two connections) and it is my weekly sojourn. I am now living and working in Germany as an academic. But, how and (perhaps, better) why I came here isn’t quite as predictable as my train schedule.
Let’s begin. My name is Christopher Shaw and I graduated from UWEC in August of 2006 having majored in religious studies and minored in philosophy and anthropology. It would be fair to say that I was a late-academic-bloomer, and my interests really only flourished in the latter-half of my studies. In any case, they took hold firm and fast after having studied the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher in a course on modern religious thought with Prof. Beach. The long story short is, after an extended period of seemingly aimless wandering between universities and other engagements, I came to Eau Claire for the final two years of study and managed to graduate in excellent standing. In hindsight, the cause of my early academic vertigo is pretty clear; that is, I simply needed to heed my passions concerning intellectual curiosities… and once I did, the pathway forward become much clearer.
After graduating from UWEC, I took some time off to work and properly set my course for the future. As it happens, I was quite happy in my new job. However, I had applied for entry into a few master-level programs and after being accepted to study for an MA at Villanova University, there was no doubt that my next stop would be Pennsylvania and the City of Brotherly-Love. During the course of this degree, I met an important thinker by the name of William Desmond. He was a professor in philosophy and working on a subject near to my own interests. What I liked most about Desmond was that fact that he was not merely commenting on texts and/or the ideas of others, but he was actually creating and producing his own philosophical system. In other words, he was actually writing philosophy – and other academics were commenting on him! Desmond and I hit it off and he invited me to study with him at his home institution in Belgium – the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Needless to say, I was getting ready to pack my bags well before actually having left his office that day.
Belgium was amazing and I would have been perfectly happy to end the academic journey there. But, having graduated magna cum laude I received an extraordinary invitation to continue my studies for a DPhil (PhD in standard notation) at the University of Oxford. I will never forget the day – and even the moment – I opened that letter. Life changed dramatically in an instant.
Oxford was brilliant! I loved studying and living there, and I became deeply involved in the University in every way that I could. There were so many exceptional opportunities afforded to me there as a doctoral student ¬– how could I pass up on any of them?! Interestingly, though, one of these opportunities came in the form of a research residency in Germany. As I was studying Meister Eckhart (a medieval German theologian) and modern philosophy of religion, this seemed to be the obvious way forward. Soon after having received this offer, I left Oxford for a one-year residency in Erfurt, which was then immediately followed by a one-year study in Berlin. Fast forward a bit, and, voilà! I am still living in Berlin, having, in the meantime, completed my doctoral studies at Oxford (in 2017) and more recently taken up a lectureship at the Humboldt-Universität.
We are now back to where we began. I am on the train and writing this short history for my beloved friends on- and extending out from- the 6th floor of Hibbard.
In a few hours, my train will arrive in Mainz where I have a post-doctoral position at the Leibniz-Instititut für Europäischer Geschichte. My new project has branched out from the philosophy of religion to encompass the world of pedagogy. In brief, I am writing a proposal on how a clear and defined program for personal formation can and, indeed, ought to accompany a normal curriculum for a university education. I suppose this can be viewed as my effort to see to it that all students are confronted with a philosophical investigation concerning their own lives, and to set those methods into coordination with the actual happenings of their immediate circumstances, along with their self- and world-understandings. The main point of this exercise is that the student will undergo a guided process of self-examination; and not as it relates to Aristotle's idea of the good life, or Kant’s transcendental deduction of the pure categories of the understanding. Instead, it is their life examined. Who am I? What can I do with my life? What are my values and attitudes toward social existence, both locally and universally? This is the topic I am writing on, now, in Mainz.
Meanwhile, in Berlin, where I am living full-time, I am teaching seminars for the HU Theologische Fakultät and Institut für Philosophie. This coming semester will be focused on a course I have designed called, Thinking About God in “A World Come of Age” – taking its title from a series of letters on the future of religious identity (among other topics) that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote while imprisoned in Berlin.
To be honest, sometimes it all feels a bit surreal. However, I should be clear that the path has not been easy. There have been profound set-backs and challenges along the way. But, nevertheless, it has been a meaningful journey and I am thankful for all that it has brought with it so far – the good, the bad, and everything in between. And, here I am – or, rather, we are: Indeed, this academic and professional record has been complemented along the way by some important personal additions, as well. For example, I am now married (my wife, Guadalupe, is from Buenos Aires, Argentina) and together my wife and I have a nearly three-month old son (Immanuel) who is bringing us lots of joy and sleepless nights. Last but not least, we also have a dog (an adopted Yorkshire Terrier named Nelson). With all of this set into a single frame, I often find myself wondering, in a manner similar to David Byrne, “How did I get here?” Well, of course, it all started at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.
Christopher David Shaw, DPhil (Oxon)
Below is an excerpt from the back cover of Dr. Shaw's latest book.
On Mysticism, Ontology, and Modernity: A Theological Engagement with Secularity
This new study offers a serious and long-overdue examination of the unstable bifurcation between theology and secularity. Rather than understanding these two formative elements of culture to be in a constant state of opposition, the author chooses an alternative path toward their reconciliation. In this way, a constructive relationship is developed between secular and theological ideas wherein they symbiotically challenge one another in such a way as to create new and/or re-examined opportunities for thinking about God, the world, and, indeed, the self.
The book first of all embarks upon a hermeneutical reading of Meister Eckhart’s defining statement that “Being is God” and ultimately arrives (via Kant, Hegel, Gadamer, Henry, and others) at a mystically informed understanding of God’s presence both in the world and in the «heart and mind» of the human experience – an understanding that defies conventional categories and static cultural identities. It is an important study of the history, the present, and the future of religious thought, presenting a hopeful image of unity and love in a world that has been for too long divided by difference.