“Rationality, Humility, and Spirituality in Christian Life”: 5 Questions with Dennis Hiebert

Dennis Hiebert is Professor of Sociology and Department Head of Arts and Sciences at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba. He is also editor of the Journal of Sociology and Christianity, a past president of the Christian Sociological Association, and the author of Sweet Surrender: How Cultural Mandates Shape Christian Marriage. His new book Rationality, Humility, & Spirituality in Christian Life is available now
  • What first sparked your interest in studying sociology?
    • I began my career as an Athletic Director, and was not exposed to sociology until I did my first Masters degree.  Though my thesis was on “Prevailing Protestant Ideology Concerning Sport,” I was still more interested in understanding sport than in understanding ideology and all things sociological. But when I did my Ph.D., I returned to sociology, suspecting that it was the only academic discipline that could hold my interest for the rest of my life.  Sure enough, my first doctoral course in social psychology gave me a better explanation of what it means to be human than I had ever heard, and though I have done considerable interdisciplinary work, I have never regretted grounding myself in sociology.
  • You are involved in organizing the Providence Public Lecture Series. Why do you think it’s important for scholars to engage with the public in this way?
    • The skylines of Oxford and Cambridge universities, along with many Ivy League universities, are dotted with turrets and spires which are described as ivory towers. Metaphorically, ivory towers are places where people are happily cut off from the rest of the world in favour of their own esoteric mental pursuits. While freedom to focus is necessary to produce excellent scholarship, it can also produce a sense of exclusivity and superiority, and become downright dangerous if it privatizes knowledge. Scholarship ought to be shared, public property, held accountable to the public, and be a benefit to the public. Besides, it’s much more rewarding to address more mature members of the public who want to listen, than to coax young adult students who just want to doze.
  •  Some Christians see our increasingly post-Modern, post-Christian, and secular society as a threat. How do you respond to this?
    • I think I understand well enough why some Christians feel threatened by post-modernity. But I would suggest, as I do in the book, that that is because their Christianity is so modernized, or more specifically, so rationalized. Post-modernity is, by definition, a critique of all things modern, modern Christianity included. Many people do not realize the extent to which modernity has also been a threat to Christianity, and has so effectively infected it.  Many scholars have noted the similarities between post-modern and pre-modern faith, and it is entirely possible that the early church lived their faith best. Perhaps institutionalized Christendom and then Enlightened modernism are big-picture ways in which the church has gone astray, and post-postmodernity may actually, unintentionally enable us to find our way home again.
  • Your new book deals, in part, with intellectual humility. How do you think Christians who may not necessarily consider themselves “intellectuals” or “scholars” can apply this humility?
    • By intellectual humility, I am not referring to the relative humility of ivory tower “intellectuals.” I am referring instead to the need for everyone to be intellectually humble, whether they consider themselves intellectuals, scholars, or anything more, less, or else. Ironically, some exemplary “intellectuals” become more intellectually humble when they realize the complexity of things, compared to those who do not. Intellectual humility is distinct from general humility, is one of the intellectual virtues, and is the opposite of intellectual arrogance that can characterize the most and least informed and capable of us all, Christian or not. And intellectual humility is not so much applied as it is lived.
  • What is the strangest question anyone has asked in one of your classes?
    • I’ve tried hard to remember one, but I just can’t.  Sorry!  Gimee a different question.   🙂
Dennis’s new book is available now.