Teaching with a healthy dose of humor

Q&A with Jim Buckley, Ph.D., professor of theology

By Brigid Hamilton  |  Photos by Brigid Hamilton

Jim Buckley, Ph.D., professor of theology, began teaching at Loyola in the fall of 1980. In the three decades since his first semester, he has seen many changes at Loyola and on the Evergreen campus.

But Buckley, who has twice served as dean of Loyola College of Arts and Sciences (from 2000-10 and later as interim dean from 2014-15), also thinks that many things at Loyola have remained the same.

Loyola magazine spoke with Buckley about teaching theology at Loyola, his research, and his personal take on Jesuit values.

How has Loyola changed during your time here?

Certainly we have more and academically stronger students and alumni, more and more-qualified faculty and staff and administrators, more and better grounds and buildings and technology.

We also seem to have less time to enjoy all this, but that probably has more to do with changes in the wider culture than changes at Loyola.

What do you like about teaching at Loyola?

I like the students, their enthusiasm and intelligence, their willingness to bear each other’s burdens along with the burdens required by their teachers. I learn from them in virtually every class.

I also enjoy colleagues who take teaching seriously—but not without a healthy dose of humor about our failures to achieve our aspirations for our teaching.

What advice do you give your students?

Re-read.

Can you talk a little about your research?

I am interested in how to do Catholic theology in our time, but even more for the future. I have recently spent a good deal of time doing research relevant to the North American Lutheran Catholic Dialogue, as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformations.

While it is a popularization of research than research itself, I am happy that Fritz Bauerschmidt (Ph.D., professor of theology) and I recently completed an introduction to Catholic theology. I hope to soon return to a book project on the relationship between the practice of the Eucharist and our lives in “ordinary time.”

Why is your research and scholarship important to you?

The teaching and learning we do with students is important; they are the next generation of scholars and supporters of scholars. But research addresses our scholarly peers, aiming to move forward thousands of unfinished theological debates about God and the world, Jesus and the communion of saints, how to live lives of justice in love toward when God is all in all. There’s plenty to do!

Can you describe an “aha!” moment in your research?

Does recently gaining clarity on some of the confusions in how Thomas Aquinas distinguishes essence and existence count?

How are Loyola’s Jesuit values reflected in your teaching?

I find “Jesuit values” an odd concept, because as often as not it sidesteps “Jesuit facts.”

Jesuits are, of course, members of the Society of Jesus, reminders that all Christians are most decisively followers of the first century Jew who is founding a universal (catholic) community for the end-time.

Jesuit universities most centrally aim to discover and hand on the intelligibility, goodness, and beauty of that enterprise (and indict its sins and foibles). At least, that’s what I hope my teaching and scholarship do.

What is something your students don’t know about you?

Most of my answers to these questions!

What are your hobbies and interests outside of teaching?

I enjoy reading. I also enjoy (carefully) exercising at the FAC.

I like staying in touch with my four brothers and two sisters along with various nieces and nephews spread up and down the East Coast and Midwest, and especially David and Jessica and our two grandchildren, Sarah and Xavier.

Do you have a favorite book, movie, or quote?

The light and darkness of the Bible is endlessly awesome and intimidating.

I do not watch as many movies as I would like, and that may explain why Terrence Merrick’s The Tree of Life is as good a movie about life and death as I know, although I did enjoy the mindless action in Mad Max: Fury Road a few weeks ago.

And on quotes: As often as not, mere quotations are misquotations.

Loyola speaks of “Strong Truths Well Lived.” Do you have a personal “strong truth”?

See above, under Jesuit values. (I’m happy you did not ask me about “well lived.”)

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