In May, three longtime and beloved Denison faculty members retired after a combined 90-plus years of teaching at the college. They have spent that time working with students and encouraging them to think critically about the world around them in each of their disciplines—anthropology, religion, and history—but they’ve also encouraged those students to leave the Hill and become lifelong learners. As they themselves leave campus (at least in a professional sense; we kind of hope they hang around or visit often), we asked them what lessons they will take with them into retirement.
I began my professional life in 1978 living and working in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, trying to understand what it was like for converts to adapt to widely distinct evangelical and sectarian churches, and yet 98 percent of the population identified with Catholicism. The question was: What does religious identity mean in such diverse circumstances? In the end, I learned about social adroitness and civility in navigating potentially lifealtering situations.
Three years later, I joined my wife, Susan Diduk, as she pursued her own anthropological work in the small village of Kedjom Keku in the Grassfields of Cameroon, West Africa. That has led to five return trips and deep friendships with many families. Learning about indigenous medicine, about how Kedjom people understand morality and society, about healing and public health measures that originated in the pre-colonial era, has been truly amazing.
Finally, I have learned how to write better about the world and about trying to be faithful to other people who are living emotional and social lives very different from my own. To pursue this, I had the opportunity to go back to school at the age of 60 to earn my M.F.A. in poetry, and to write poems about what life is like in places like Kedjom Keku. As with other disciplines, anthropology is not just about answers; it is about learning to ask the right questions, and then really listening to what people say. It turns out to be something that never ends.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology/Anthropology