First semester reflection with Doug Finn, Visiting Willette Professor

Fr Don Willette presents his gift to the College of Liberal Arts for the Willette Professor of Theology
Fr Don Willette presents his gift to the College of Liberal Arts for the Willette Professor of Theology

Visiting professor Doug Finn, Ph.D. joined the CSU community and the Department of Philosophy in August 2021 as a result of a gift from Fr. Don Willette to establish an endowed faculty position for Catholic studies. The gift is a nearly $1M bequest signed in Dec. 2018. In Dec. 2021, Fr. Willette converted part of the bequest to a cash gift, giving $550,000 to the College of Liberal Arts now. (A search for a full-time faculty member is currently underway.)

Doug Finn
Visiting professor Doug Finn, Ph.D.

We checked in with Dr. Finn on his first semester of teaching at CSU. His courses were Religions of the West: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and Memory, Narrative, and Tragedy in Modern Catholic Thought.

“The classes were wonderful!,” says Finn. The course on religions of the West is a large lecture course, in which Finn incorporated close readings of primary sources from the history of all three traditions, and invited six guest speakers to share their time and wisdom with the class.

In the texts, “the students were fascinated by the examples of mysticism that we encountered in all three traditions,” and when the guest speakers came, “they showed a genuine interest in learning what it is like to live out the various religious traditions we’ve studied. The students demonstrated a strong ability to contribute to honest and fruitful interreligious dialogue.”

On the other hand, the course on memory was a very small seminar. The students have “shown an eagerness to engage a range of Catholic authors on a variety of important theological topics such as the doctrines of the Trinity, Christ, or the Church. The students have demonstrated an impressive ability to ask critical questions of the authors we are reading,” he says.

Next semester, Finn will teach Religion and Film, and Religious Themes in 18th and 19th Century German Literature and Philosophy. “I’ve always enjoyed exploring the religious themes and features of film, so teaching a whole course on the topic will be fun. I’m eager to learn from my students, who always have a way of casting new light on whatever topic we’re discussing,” he says.

In addition to teaching, Finn has participated in the local community in several ways this semester: meetings with members of the Fort Collins Interfaith Council, the World Wisdoms Project, and Catholic and Lutheran Student Ministries. In October, he gave a presentation on early Christian biblical interpretation to the students at John XXIII Catholic Church. And, he worked with Laura Nelson, president of the interfaith council, to set up internship opportunities with various faith-based and nonprofit organizations for philosophy students at CSU.

Next semester, in March, Finn will participate in the World Wisdoms Project panel discussion concerning the effect of the pandemic on the practice of religion. And he will join CSU Professor of Organ Joel Bacon on an interdisciplinary event focused on the interpretation of the book of Job in music and preaching.

In one of Finn’s current research projects – on the late antique Christian bishop John Chrysostom’s preaching on the biblical figure of Job – he is interested in how early Christian leaders used their knowledge of classical rhetoric, ancient medicine, and classical philosophical ethics to help them interpret and preach on the Christian scriptures.