By Andrea Gaul
The department is excited to welcome Dr. Francis Beckwith back on campus following the completion of his year-long adventure as CU-Boulder’s Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy.
Beckwith described his journey to this position as relatively “mundane.” A former graduate student saw an advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education and thought Beckwith would be a great fit for the position. Beckwith applied with little expectation, and in November of 2015, he was notified he was one of two finalists. Just days after his in-person interview, he got the job.
“It was unusual because the appointment wasn’t about research,” Beckwith said. “I became an actual member of CU-Boulder faculty.”
Created four years ago, the position was a pilot program developed by donors and alumni who thought CU-Boulder, a predominately progressive campus, was not adequately diverse in ideology. Though this role was somewhat controversial intially, Beckwith never felt out of place. He is the fourth scholar to hold this position.
“The first three scholars had backgrounds in history,” Beckwith began. “I was the first philosopher and the first with legal background. I like that CU-Boulder is not ‘cookie cutter’ when it comes to choosing their scholars, but strives to incorporate those with different disciplines.”
As a visiting scholar, Beckwith taught two courses each semester, brought in guest speakers, and served as a guest speaker himself, giving more than 25 talks during his time in Colorado. In addition, Beckwith found his position served as a platform to promote his new book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith, which was selected by the American Academy of Religion for one of its prestigious 2016 book awards.
“It really was a perfect storm,” Beckwith said. “Baylor and CU-Boulder sent out releases for the book, which was great publicity.”
Beckwith taught two courses in the philosophy department and one in the political science department: “Philosophy and Religion” (which he taught in both the fall and spring semesters), “Religion and the U.S. Constitution,” and “Thomas Aquinas,” which he team-taught with Dr. Robert Pasnau. Beckwith admitted that while he was excited to have these opportunities, he was initially anxious by the scope of his responsibilities.
“It was a good kind of pressure,” Beckwith said. “I had to prep extensively on the weekends, but I’m glad I did it.”
Beckwith is no stranger to teaching at public universities, as he taught at University of Nevada, Las Vegas from 1989 to 1996. Though he loves teaching at Baylor, he noted it was a nice change of pace to teach at CU-Boulder, particularly when it came to faith-oriented questions he received from students.
“These [faith-oriented] questions weren’t so ‘everyday’ like they are at Baylor,” Beckwith said. “Students weren’t accustomed to dealing with these questions, so they almost approached them with more enthusiasm, like a kind of novelty.”
In other classes, such as “Religion and the U.S. Constitution,” Beckwith appreciated that students felt comfortable to share openly, though their ideology may have differed from his own.
“It’s something I’m proud of,” Beckwith said. “Students would never hesitate to offer opinions they knew weren’t mine.”
In addition to his responsibilities as visiting scholar, Beckwith also enjoyed CU-Boulder’s beautiful campus, settled in the Rocky Mountains. He noted he will miss walking to class every day! However, Beckwith’s fondest memory in his time at CU-Boulder was team-teaching the “Thomas Aquinas” course with Dr. Pasnau.
“At the time, I wasn’t fond of the idea, as I was very intimidated,” Beckwith said. “However, once the class began, it was a marvelous experience. I learned so much from him, and I’m more confident than ever to teach Aquinas at Baylor.”
Beckwith reflects on one conversation with Pasnau in particular with gratitude: “When I confided in Pasnau and admitted my insecurities, he said, ‘OK yeah, but you have skin in the game.’ I was honored.”
Beckwith returns to the department with an impressive year of work completed and fresh perspective to share with students and faculty. He will teach two sections of “Law and Religion in the United States” in the upcoming fall semester, and a course on Thomas Aquinas in the spring.