Faculty Profile: James K.A. Smith, philosophy

Prof. Smith is the author of more than a dozen books, including <i>Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?</i>
Prof. Smith is the author of more than a dozen books, including Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

A major Christian voice in American culture

A big part of contagious teaching is modeling exploration and discovery for students—sharing with them your excitement as you learn new things, inviting them to experience that unique joy of seeing the world anew.

One of the reasons Jamie Smith became a professor was because it meant he never had to stop being a student.

“My job is to be constantly curious: to keep studying, exploring and learning—because God’s broken-but-blessed world has all sorts of complexities that we have yet to understand, but also because I will be a better teacher if I am a perpetual student.”

What do you love?

Smith describes his childhood in Embro, Ont., as “very working class.” His parents never graduated high school. He was the first member of his family to go to college.

Leaving Ontario for the States, Smith began what would amount to 10 years of higher education, culminating with a PhD in philosophy. At Calvin, he teaches courses such as “Fundamental Questions of Philosophy” and “Interpreting Church Practices.” 

For Professor Smith, teaching is about more than educating minds. It’s about Christian formation—developing practices that form our loves and give direction to our lives: “What do you love? What, at the end of the day, is going to trump the other activities in your life? What moves you?” 

Whatever that is, says Smith, it is something to which you are deeply—religiously—devoted. Ultimately, it's about how you rank your priorities.

“What’s challenging about it is that it’s something that’s working in you at a level you don’t always know,” he said.

A scholar, blogger, banjo enthusiast

In addition to his teaching and scholarly work, Smith’s calendar is filled with speaking engagements, where his topics range from ancient religious practices, to postmodernism to faith and culture. He is the editor of Comment Magazine and writes a blog. In his spare time, Smith enjoys gardening with his wife, reading fiction and poetry, watching NASCAR, traveling and, occasionally, trying to learn the banjo.

VERGE: fall 2013

First-Year Experience