Stephen Wilson

What brought you to Hood College?

The vibrancy of the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area and the charm of downtown Frederick were attractive features.

What do you value most about your relationship with students?

It is rewarding to watch intellectual growth take place that contributes to more satisfying and productive lives. Being subject to the questions of beginners also keeps me attuned to the broadest range of issues about religion (my field) that exist in the public sphere.

Why is teaching your dream job?

I feel very fortunate to be able to wake up each morning with the prospect of talking about and writing about human moral and political ideals.

If you were to consider another career, what would you consider and why?

I really can’t see myself doing anything else.

Describe your approach to teaching?

I would deem basic information about the world’s religions as valuable for its own sake. But misinformation can also cloud judgment and foster prejudice. Given the powerful role religion plays in personal identities and public politics, learning about the diversity of religious beliefs and practices can contribute to the virtues of citizenship in a wider and more complex global society. Beyond conveying basic information, however, I try to foster the crucial civic and interpersonal skills operative in critical debate with others. I don’t want the classroom to be just a space artificially separated from “ordinary life” but a model for an ideal way of carrying on probing and inclusive exchanges with friends, colleagues, fellow citizens and unfamiliar strangers.

What is/are your most memorable moment/s at Hood?

Discovering the hidden depths of colleagues in departments across campus. Over the years, I have cherished the wealth of experience that has come from colleagues’ extracurricular activities as expert witnesses in public safety litigation, as international travelers in search of rare butterfly species, and as participants in UN report groups.”

Describe your academic interests and research?

I am a historian of religious ethics. That is to say, I study the history of the way that religion has shaped the ethics of individuals and societies. Of particular interest to me are situations where parties need to form some kind of resolution across not only ethical and religious frameworks but also across different accounts of what religion is or isn’t and the way religion should or shouldn’t inform ethical and political frameworks. Power differentials between the parties affect what needs to be universally insisted upon and what level of divergent belief and practice is compatible with the resolutions. It is then subsequently debated whether existing commonality-divergence boundaries place one party in a disadvantaged position and what adjustments might be made to make the frameworks of resolution-implementation more equitable. Right now I am working on a book that seeks to show how globalized oppositions between public religious identities that are regarded as socially unproductive or “extreme” and those that do not stand out in this way are based in conceptions of religion and conceptions of the intersection between religion and politics forged in 17th- and 18th-century Anglo-American culture. Understanding this history gives one a better understanding of contemporary international debates about, e.g., whether the globalization of the frameworks of human rights and/or laissez-faire capitalism place certain cultures in disadvantaged positions.

When you aren’t working, what are you doing in your spare time?

In my off hours, you can often find me planning new research trips abroad.

Name three books that you would recommend everyone read:

A. C. Graham’s “Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters” (a particularly fine edition of the work of an influential classical Chinese philosopher)
John Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration”
Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”