Hope College has hired an experienced scholar and educator to direct the college's new "Lilly Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation."
Dr. David S. Cunningham, who has most recently served as professor of theology and ethics at Seabury- Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., will begin at the college in early August. He has also been appointed a professor of religion.
"We were very excited that a senior professional would share the vision that we have for the importance of this program for Hope College," said Dr. William Reynolds, who is dean for the arts and humanities at Hope, and chaired the search committee in addition to having co-chaired the committee that drafted the program proposal. "We're confident that he'll bring to his work the same enthusiasm and competence that he's brought to other parts of his career."
The multi-faceted Lilly program, which will start in the fall, will encourage students to reflect on how their faith commitments are related to their career choices and what it means to be "called" to lives of service. It has been funded through a $2 million, five-year grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
Cunningham has been at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary for the past six years. He previously served on the faculties at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and Austin College in Sherman, Texas. During the past year, he held an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Freiburg in Germany.
He has published widely in the areas of Christian theology and ethics, including two specialized books in Christian theology and two edited collections. His most recent book, "Reading is Believing: The Christian Faith through Literature and Film," makes his theological reflections available to a broader audience; it explores the central beliefs of Christianity through novels and films.
His current book project, which he began during his fellowship year in Freiburg, examines the Christian doctrine of revelation--that is, how human beings have come to have knowledge of God--in dialogue with drama and drama theory. The book will be published by William B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids, and is tentatively titled "Spectacle to the World: Divine Revelation as Rhetoric and Drama."
Cunningham regularly offers lectures and workshops to a wide variety of audiences--in academia, in churches and church-related institutions, and for the wider public.
He holds a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Northwestern University; a bachelor's and a master's degree in theology and religious studies from the University of Cambridge in England; and a doctorate in religion from Duke University.
Cunningham is married to Teresa A. Hittner, a specialist in second languages and cultures (with a focus in French). Both have an ongoing interest in the theory and practice of home education. They have two daughters, Monica and Emily Hittner-Cunningham, ages 11 and seven. The family enjoys music, bicycling, camping and theatre.
The "Lilly Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation" has four main emphases. It is designed to help students and faculty explore the liberal arts as a shared vocation that enables them to discern what gives them their deepest joys as human beings and as Christians. It will help students explore how their future work can meet the world's most pressing needs. It will strengthen the college's partnership with Hope's parent denomination, the Reformed Church in America, and with the wider Christian community in identifying and nurturing leaders for congregations and the church. And it will encourage faculty and staff to discover deeper and wider understandings of their own vocations.
The program's first emphasis, "Liberal Arts as Vocation: Discovering One's Deep Joy," is designed to reach every student. It will include discussion of vocation in recruitment materials and during New Student Orientation. The First- Year Seminar, Senior Seminar and Residence Life programs will be provided support that will allow for additional emphasis on discussion of vocation. Hope will also schedule retreats for students to allow them to consider the topic.
Through "Specialized Study as Vocation: Responding to the World's Needs," the college will encourage students to reflect on vocation in their own area of specialization. Hope intends to develop pre-professional and internship programs that will emphasize vocation. The academic advising program will also place greater emphasis on vocation.
In "Christian Ministry as Vocation: Responding to the Church's Needs," Hope will help students consider careers in the church. Activities will include visits to seminaries and internships with churches, programs including lay ministry and parish nursing, and scholarships for students interested in ministry, including minority students from RCA congregations.
The fourth emphasis, "Academic Life as Vocation: Faculty-Staff Support Initiatives," will fund faculty training, faculty-student collaborative research on vocation and grants for additional faculty projects focused on vocation.