Religion department hires new professor

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The religion department added their ninth faculty member, Clair Mesick, out of well over a hundred other applicants, according to the chair of the religion department, Kenneth Pomykala. The high number of applicants may have been affected by the broad description of the new position, which didn’t specify between biblical studies and theology, the two main fields of study within most religion departments.

“We had a lot of strong candidates, which made the choice difficult,” said Pomykala, “but we are pleased with our choice.” Although there were many options, the department chose Mesick because she best fit the criteria they wanted: teaching experience, professional scholarship and confessional requirements. Pomykala said she also did well on the interview and in her sample class that the final candidates were required to teach.

Mesick, who will be the second female faculty member added to the current religion department, “will [also] bring gender diversity to our department,” according to Pomykala. Although the new hire helps improve the gender ratio of religion faculty members, Pomykala still thinks there is room for improvement.

The religion department anticipates Mesick to begin teaching courses in the coming Fall semester. But before teaching at Calvin, all faculty must become members of the Christian Reformed Church or must have some sort of a special exemption. This requirement was easy for Mesick, who has been a member of the Christian Reformed Church in South Bend, Indiana for over half a decade. She said, “I’ve found the Reformed church to be a wonderful fit for a biblical scholar. The Reformed tradition is rooted in history and tradition yet with a deep sense of the Christian responsibility to working toward justice in the modern world.”

Regarding the intersection of her personal faith and biblical scholarship, Mesick noted that being a biblical scholar allows her to sometimes come across an “idea or thought that strikes home,” but it can also act as a “double-edged sword,” with her studies sometimes distracting her during the “middle of a sermon, quiet time, or small group.”

Mesick is currently finishing her PhD at the University of Notre Dame, with a focus on the Pauline letters. She will be the religion department’s first scholar specializing in Paul. Her dissertation is titled “Paul and the ‘Interlopers’: Apostleship and Antagonism in the Corinthian Correspondence.”

Pointing to Notre Dame’s broad theology program that trains PhD candidates in Old Testament, Early Judaism, New Testament and Early Christian period, “For a liberal arts college like Calvin you want faculty who aren’t narrowly trained technicians … and [Mesick] reflects that,” says Pomykala.

Mesick pointed to the cross-disciplinary conversations she has been able to participate in as a member of the Notre Dame community, such as how the Bible can be used or misused and “how biblical imagery gets taken up in Christian worship and art.” On these cross-disciplinary conversations, she said “I look forward to continuing those conversations at Calvin — though with the added framework of a Reformed Christian worldview rather than a predominantly Catholic one.”

She looks forward to “teaching and [researching] in a Reformed scholarly community that sees intellectual, spiritual, and ethical questions as equally vital.”

The professional status committee approved Mesick; she still has to be ratified by the board in February, which Pomykala says “shouldn’t be an issue.”