Dr. David Jeffrey

Fall 2011

Faculty Feature

Dr. David Jeffrey

Training horses and feeding cattle on a ranch in Canada is not the presumed childhood of a Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities, but Dr. David Jeffrey claims this pastoral background as well as an extremely successful academic career. Jeffrey attended Wheaton College for his undergraduate degree and received his Ph.D. from Princeton. After teaching in Canada and China, Jeffrey was finally persuaded to become a professor at Baylor University.

A champion of research, Jeffrey claims that undergraduate students are often much more capable of research than most people believe. He considers it a "real mistake" to postpone research until graduate school. "One of the great things about getting an education and being part of an educational environment is not simply receiving and learning about things that have happened in the past, but it's learning how to make a contribution to future knowledge by doing something pretty interesting in the present," he affirms. Research provides opportunities for a greater understanding of the subject being taught as well as a development of skills useful for future education and careers.

Jeffrey's own personal research has focused primarily on the influence of the Bible upon culture, particularly in literature and the arts. "I'm interested not only in how poets and painters reflect the Scripture and its traditions and interpretations. I'm interested in the way they actually contribute to the tradition," he stresses. Jeffrey merged his own interests with the research of his Great Texts students through the "Sacred Texts, Holy Images" art exhibit at the Mayborn Museum featuring original works by Georges Rouault and Marc Chagall. Jeffrey's students were given the opportunity not only to experience the art firsthand but also to study how modern artists interpret traditional biblical understandings. Prompted by Jeffrey, the students expanded their comprehension and knowledge of Christian art through actual research and observation.

But this is just one example of Jeffrey's effective encouragement of undergraduate research. In particular he recalls Kirsten Appleyard (BA 2009) who developed a curiosity for contemporary French painter Arcabas while a member of Jeffrey's class. No one had yet published in English on Arcabas. After discussing her ideas with Jeffrey, Kirsten decided to focus her Honors thesis on the French painter. Her final thesis was over 100 pages long and received a distinguished award for Honors thesis in that year. It is now being considered for publication as a book. Additionally, Kirsten guest curated the "Sacred Texts, Holy Images" exhibit at Baylor.

"Usually what happens is that students who are in a course will actually use the paper that they write in the course perhaps to give a conference presentation . . . or sometimes to become the writing sample that they will send to graduate schools," Jeffrey relates. Thus, the research Jeffrey offers within his classes opens the door for students to conduct further research with skill and experience. The effect of his encouragement of undergraduate research is evident in the success of Jeffrey's students, several of whom published essays in The Pulse special edition devoted to the "Sacred Texts, Holy Images" exhibit.