September 2007

Faculty Feature

Dr. Joel Burnett

Dr. Joel Burnett

Ingesting knowledge from multiple resources is a key factor in Dr. Joel Burnett's work as an Old Testament scholar at Baylor University. One of the most important classes for his development as a researcher and professor was his freshman geology class at Wofford College. "We had to use inductive and creative reasoning to analyze how the Earth was shaped into the form that it currently exists in. These skills were some of the most important tools I took with me to seminary," Dr. Burnett explains. Dr. Burnett encourages his students to utilize all of the knowledge they acquire during their undergraduate experience to help become experts in their specific fields.

Dr. Burnett's hope is that any student graduating from Baylor's religion department will not only have a greater understanding of the history and function of religion in society, but also be empowered to think thoroughly about any given issue, rather than simply react. "Every researcher is doing nothing but what undergraduates should do: learn to ask questions and test assumptions to see if they hold true under scrutiny," he urges.

Dr. Burnett encourages undergraduate research first by modeling for students the connection between his own scholarship and his teaching. During spring 2006, for example, Dr. Burnett concurrently taught a class and held an academic conference on the book of Psalms. By making his research agenda correspond with his teaching schedule, Dr. Burnett can share the newest developments with his students and can encourage them to pursue research in similar fields as well. He facilitates research in his upper level undergraduate courses by requiring his students to complete a thorough research paper. Dr. Burnett explains, "It is very important for students to learn how to ask good questions, what types of questions need to be asked, and acquire the methods to put those questions into written expression."

One of his students, Dustin Chapel, decided to seek Dr. Burnett's counsel in preparation for writing his honors thesis. Specifically, Chapel looked at the Gnostic Gospel of Judas through historical and literary lenses. Dr. Burnett remarked, "Directing the interests, abilities, and energies of a student to not only find out about something, but also communicate the outcome in a way that is accessible to others, is very gratifying."

Along with his emphasis on research in the classroom and help with honors theses, Dr. Burnett advances undergraduate research through his active membership in Phi Beta Kappa and by making himself available to students committed to academic excellence. Whether found in his office or the cafeteria, Dr. Burnett is always ready to help students formulate questions and answers about the world.

Dr. Burnett studied German at Wofford College before going to Princeton Seminary. He received a Ph.D. in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies from Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Burnett believes that in a media-saturated society (via the internet, television, etc.), "We tend to believe that scholarship and studying are indulgences that do not have immediate, practical value." Though it takes discipline and even stubbornness to invest time in advanced research, Dr. Burnett advises serious scholars to approach research with the mindset, "I'm going to get lost in this." He has done so, without regret.