Grad News spoke with Lyons recently and discussed the award and her career at Baylor.
Graduate School: How did you find out the NABPR fellowship?
Courtney Lyons: I learned about it last year, but I was not eligible at that time. To submit an application you have to have completed all your requirements except the dissertation, and you have to have an approved prospectus. Last year, I wasn't ready, but I had it in the back of my mind that I would apply. My advisor, Dr. Doug Weaver, told me it was pretty selective, and he told me not to get my hopes up, but it would be good to apply because you never know. So, I was very happy when I found out I had won.
GS: What does it mean to win?
CL: The fellowship is $3000 plus an additional $1000 travel award to either the American Academy of Religion's conference or the NABPR national convention.
GS: What do you think separated you from the others who applied?
CL: NABPR gets a lot of applications every year from a diverse group of young scholars. There are people who want to teach religion, theologians, historian, Bible scholars, and ministerial students. The committee is looking not only at the quality of your work but also your commitment to Baptist principals. They also try to get a sense of how well you will carry on the Baptist tradition as a professor. Basically, to what degree do you see teaching as a calling, as a form of ministry.
GS: How did Baylor help prepare you for this award?
CL: One of my favorite things about Baylor is the commitment to doing both faith and learning well. We have worked really hard to understand that integration. This extends beyond the classroom and across disciplines. So, Baylor definitely prepared me. But, if I had to pinpoint one thing I would definitely says the Conyers Scholar Program.
GS: What is the Conyers Scholar Program?
CL: Conyers is a group of doctoral students chosen each year to discuss the application of faith and learning in the classroom. We get together once a month and read theologians or church leaders and we talk about the importance of Christian education. It is something I think Baylor does uniquely well because the academics are quite difficult. But I also think Baylor does a great job of inculcating community service, spiritual formation, and responsibility to self-spiritual development.
GS: Why did you choose Baylor?
CL: My undergraduate degree was from the University of Texas at Arlington, in computer science engineering. It is kind of surprising that my Ph.D. is in church history. I went from UTA to Truett Seminary. That's where I began to realize that my calling was teaching.
GS: What do you mean?
CL: I feel that thinking is one of the most profound forms of worship. I teach the "Intro to Christian Heritage" course and maybe one out of sixty students is a religion major, most are business and science majors. I think it is important for our students to think about why they believe what they believe. More importantly, what implications do your beliefs have on the way you live your life, and how does that affect the field you choose to enter?
That is exactly what my professors have asked me. I have been overwhelmed at the level of care that my professors have invested in me over the time that I have been here - both in my academic development and my research and professional development. The way professors care for the overall development of their students is very much linked to their understanding of Christian identity.
The more I learn about how that is being carried out and where Baylor is headed the more proud I am that my degree will be from Baylor University and the more I hope I can find a school and carry those values into my teaching. At some schools you're just a number, and they're just churning out Ph.D.'s. Here, it's extremely personal. It's a community.