Heart of a Poet: Q&A with Dr. Jeremiah Webster
Inspirational. Encouraging. Life-changing.
These are some of the words you’ll hear students use to describe a class taught by Dr. Jeremiah Webster. He brings literature to life in a remarkable way and has had a tremendous impact on this campus. We interviewed Dr. Webster to learn more about his recent publication and to see what advice he has to offer students.
What experiences have prepared you for being a professor at NU?
Being a student at Whitworth University was the greatest preparation for the work I do. I remember all too well the challenge of being an undergraduate student: studying for exams, writing papers, dealing with socially awkward professors, working to pay for tuition, and reading late into the night. Although, I must confess, the reading part was sublime. Recalling my own academic journey inspires empathy for my students and a willingness to meet them wherever they may be on this pilgrimage. The great secret, the “scandal,” is that being a professor allows one to be a student for the rest of his or her life. And even then, an undiscovered country awaits for further examination, poetry, and praise.
What sets the Northwest University community apart from those of other colleges?
Northwest has a steadfast Christian identity. The easier route would be to simply forsake the Christian faith in service of the fashions and philosophies that govern the present age. I am grateful that NU shows little sign of pursuing this path. Too many Christian universities today treat the faith more as a liability than a luxury. This is unfortunate, as I see Christianity as a profound resource, a deep well, for any learning community. My hope is that NU can be unabashed, endearing, and decidedly humble in its commitment to orthodoxy.
You recently had a book published. Tell us a bit about it. What is the book's premise?
My most recent publication is an anthology of poems by W.B. Yeats (A Rumor of Soul: The Poetry of W.B. Yeats – Wiseblood Books). I provided the critical introduction. I became fascinated with how we think (or don’t think) about the soul, and what happens to poetry, to education, to morality, to politics, to church, when we no longer include the soul in our appraisal of human nature. At its core, I believe the malaise we face in modernity is a direct result of how absent an eternal perspective is among Christians and non-Christians alike. Algorithms have eclipsed the logos, and emojis are poor substitutes for poetry. In our effort to quantify everything, I fear we have lost the essence of everything.
What advice do you have to offer current and future NU students?
Read everything you can. Sit under the tutelage of the “cloud of witnesses” that have gone before us. The ancients would weep if they could see the intellectual riches available to us online. We have the library of Alexandria at our fingertips, but are too often distracted by YouTube and Facebook. If you can’t find a living mentor, consult a dead one. In some ways, I have found more inspiration in the poems of John Donne, T.S. Eliot, and Rainer Maria Rilke than in a lot of the sermons and TED Talks being heralded today. Inhabit the spiritual disciplines early, and resist the consumer mentality that insists that the world owes you, well, everything. Remember that you are dust, and live accordingly. Remember that God has called you by name, called you His own, and serve others accordingly.
Dr. Webster’s passion for literature and for the students of NU shines through daily in the classroom. His ability to engage, motivate, and challenge has helped make the university a better place.