Political science professor Micah Watson first read Plato’s Republic when he was a student in college. You might remember the Republic—it’s Plato’s best known work that recounts stories of Socrates inviting people into a discussion about life’s big questions. What is the meaning of justice? How should the government reflect justice? And what is the nature of the good?
This semester, Watson taught the Republic to students in POLS 240: “Freedom, Justice, and Political Authority.” Watson guides the discussion, but he isn’t heavy-handed. “It’s not me with a box of data that I’m handing over to students. I want to know what they think.”
Watson, the son of a pastor and schoolteacher, grew up in California and studied politics at a large public university. He often had more conservative viewpoints than his professors and was one of the few vocal Christians in class. “Being a person of faith in the public university classroom was tricky. I had to articulate my faith in a way that was winsome,” he said.
He found that some of his professors shut down his ideas and didn’t welcome dialogue. But some—including the one who introduced him to the Republic—welcomed an open exchange. These dialogues deepened his convictions, and they opened his eyes to the possibility of real conversations amidst people who loved the material but saw it differently.
Modeling the exchange of ideas in a civil way is central to why Watson teaches. “Our society is full of polarization and ugliness. We as Christians are called to reason, act, and discuss with love,” Watson said. “Christians can do a better job at disagreeing. How we disagree and discuss ideas is part of our witness.”
Watson was drawn to Calvin because he knew that Calvin would not be one-sided politically. “At Calvin, we have a range of political views, and we have a common framework of Christian belief and commitment. That’s unique, and rare, and we should press into that as a strength of who we are rather than a liability.”
Students in his classes are told that up front, from the very first day. “If you’re progressive, you’re going to rub shoulders with conservatives. If you’re conservative, you’re going to rub shoulders with progressives. If you were hoping that you’d come to a place where you’d be surrounded by people who thought like you and you wouldn’t be challenged, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
Watson still enjoys the journey through the Republic because he gets to see it through the eyes of new students each year. “It’s pretty great to work through a 2,400-year- old text about the big questions in life with students for whom those questions are much more than academic. Calvin is a place where those conversations still happen.”
Watson is also the executive director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics and the Paul B. Henry Chair in Political Science.