Rubén Dupertuis, religion professor and co-director of the Humanities Collective, will tell you that all good research starts with good questions. His life’s work sprung from questions about storytelling in the ancient Roman world. Ask him about the word “wellish” or what his personal religion is, and you’ll realize you asked a good question.
What do you like most about teaching Trinity students?
I get to talk about texts and topics I love with students who are bright, inquisitive, motivated, and thoughtful. I teach the same introduction to the New Testament just about every semester, but it’s never the same twice because the students change, as do their questions and insights. I also love being pushed into exploring new topics and areas. Thanks to students’ curiosity, I’ve gotten to work on a second century text called the Gospel of Peter, and on other texts related to UFO religions' use of the Bible, how the Bible is used in 4th and 5th grade Sunday School curricula in different denominations, and scripture in the novels of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. It’s a sweet gig.
How do you motivate your students?
I try to point out the relevance of the texts we study and be clear about why we do the things we do in class. I also try to create learning environments in which we are all contributing to learning.
What are some of your pre-class rituals?
I try not to schedule anything in the hour before I teach a class in order to go over what we’re going to do and, more important, get myself into the right frame of mind. As for the actual class session, I somehow fell into the habit of beginning each class by saying, “I hope you are well, wellish, or at the very least well enough.” I can’t recall how it started, but I’m afraid I’m stuck with it. Students often remind me to say the greeting if I forget.
How did you get involved in your field of study?
My parents taught at Christian colleges, so I grew up in communities where the Bible was central. In college I majored in English, but found myself gravitating to literature that involved religion in some way, either through its themes or characters. Then, armed with theories and methods of literary studies, I started to get interested in how the stories in the Bible work from a narrative standpoint. How different is storytelling in the early Roman world when most of these texts were written? I had lots of questions and decided to try to answer them by doing a two-year master’s degree. I got sucked in, kept going, and ended up with a Ph.D.
How do Humanities courses incorporate research?
This varies on the course and the level, but I think that Humanities courses have always incorporated research in some way. All good research starts with good questions. In lower division courses, students usually take on questions handed to them by their professors, but the answers aren’t predetermined. By the time they are in upper division seminars, students come up with their own questions. By this point the questions are more sophisticated, which requires engaging what others have said about an issue in greater depth and writing longer papers. But I’ve seen students write a five-page paper for my New Testament course that essentially identifies an issue that no one in my field has thought about. They aren’t ready to provide a fully developed answer yet, but that’s how you start. In upper division courses, directed studies, and summer undergraduate research projects, students develop answers that are essentially graduate-level work.
What is your favorite aspect of teaching? Least favorite? Why?
Favorite? Watching students become conversation partners. Nothing makes me happier than when students push back on something I’ve proposed with a thoughtful, careful argument. This last semester, a student made an argument for how education scenes function in a second century early Christian text called the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” I disagreed with a part of his argument in an early draft, so he went out, did more research, and convinced me to change my understanding of the text.
Least favorite? Probably grading. The volume of it can wear on me occasionally.
Who inspires you? Why?
My mom. She quit college in her twenties to go to work. My sister and I came along and it wasn’t until I was in high school that she got a chance to go back and finish. She graduated from college on the same day I graduated from high school, went on to get a graduate degree, and taught for the rest of her career. She’s inquisitive and curious. She's also the kindest person I know.
Favorite color? Why?
Blue. Or at least what I think blue is. I'm color blind. Actually, I prefer to think that I'm the normal one and everyone else is just color-hypersensitive.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Why?
As as kid I wanted to be a catcher for the Cubs. In high school I discovered cycling and wanted to race bikes. From college on I've enjoyed reading the great sportswriters and listening to the great broadcasters, especially on the radio. I don't think I have what it takes to do that, but I've always wanted to call a baseball or basketball game.
Favorite sports team? Why?
Because I teach in religious studies, students often want to know my religion. My answer is usually that I'm a Cubs fan. It's only partially a joke. When I was 8 and living in Southwest Michigan I told my dad I wanted to learn to play baseball. He grew up in Argentina and came over in his twenties, and he had never touched a baseball much less played the game, but he was willing to learn it with me. The next day we went to Peanut Sports—the only sporting goods store in town—and bought a glove, a ball, and bat. A couple of days later we went back to buy a second glove—we'd figured that much out at least. Our little town was closer to Chicago than Detroit, WGN was a local station, and this was still before Wrigley field had lights, so dad and I watched a lot of games. Through the years the Cubs have been our touch point—a kind of common language. For the last 16 years, Dad and I carve out time every March to go to Phoenix for three days of spring training. This last year we took my son, which was great. Oh, and the Cubs won the World Series last year. That was pretty cool, too.