June 2015‎ > ‎

2. Seven Junior Members, Seven Achievements

Convocation Photo: May 8, 2015
Back Row: Bob Sweetman, Doug Blomberg, John Kok, Jim Olthuis, Shannon Hoff
Front Row: Stephan Knibbe, Ron Kuipers, Rachel McGuire, Carolyn Mackie, Dianne Bergsma, Joanna Sheridan


Rachel McGuire (by Bob Sweetman)

Rachel came to ICS from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. She was blessed with a roving scholarly eye and a commitment to scholarship enabling a spirited engagement with the world on behalf of the weak and the poor. For a number of years Sylvia Keesmaat provided her a biblical gateway to her irrepressibly interdisciplinary conception of the shape of contemporary Christian existence, a conception syncopated to the cadences of scripture at their most radical-critical-prophetic. In the end, careful biblical scholarship proved but a means to an activist end that refused in turn to see disciplinary boundaries and strictures as anything other than a nuisance in the struggle to understand how Christians were to think about and engage the world they faced today. I became her supervisor, in part, by dint of my own oft demonstrated interdisciplinary rashness. The resulting thesis The Dangerously Divine Gift: A Biblical Theology of Power uses Feminist and Liberationist methods to weave a strikingly original reading of Luke together with contemporary continental philosophers like Arendt, Foucault, and Derrida, to produce a scholarly tapestry circumscribing in its many-threaded way the shape of power and Christian faithfulness as they call to people of moderate privilege in contemporary society. What made Rachel’s thesis particularly poignant for me was the knowledge that she not only talks the talk, she has long walked the walk as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rochester NY, and in her complicated volunteer life among the vulnerable of her teetering city and indeed the world.


Carolyn Mackie (by Bob Sweetman)

Carolyn Mackie came to ICS from Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, AB where she had apprenticed under the talented Myron Penner. She came to ICS moved by an abiding attraction to the Great Dane of continental philosophy Søren Kierkegaard. In the course of her first year at ICS she decided that she wanted to work with me in the hopes I suppose that a historian/philosopher of stories might have something to contribute to understanding the greatest novelistic philosopher of modern times. I did not take long to agree, for I am a lover of graceful writing and Carolyn is one of the most graceful writers I have had the pleasure of guiding in my career at ICS. Kierkegaard had called out to and perplexed Carolyn years before she came to ICS. The conundrums he presents all readers acted as magnet for her philosophical efforts. In her thesis entitled Two Things at the Same Time: ‘Fordoblelse’ in Kierkegaard’s Writings, Carolyn took on one of the more daunting of these conundrums, his notion of redoubling and its semantic cousins reduplication, repetition, and double reflection. What stood out was the complexity Kierkegaard understood to characterize Christian existence and the mystery of eternity’s presence within time and among all the finite creatures who live and have their meaning there. Carolyn’s analysis is scrupulous to claim no more than what she is sure she understands, while exuding a deep trust that patient attention to Kierkegaard’s uncounted paradoxes is a discipline lifting the attentive soul into the arms of God.


Stefan Knibbe (by Bob Sweetman)

Stefan Knibbe came to ICS from Dordt College in Sioux Center IA. He came with a near photographic knowledge of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, a large and mostly intended capacity for all manner of hilarity, and a hunger for reformational philosophy and its capacity to integrate faith and thought that I am guessing he only truly became aware of at ICS in his first year encounter with D. H. Th. Vollenhoven. All of this came together in Stefan’s thesis entitled A Different Conversion by a Different C. S. Lewis: An Analysis of "Surprised by Joy". There he used Vollenhoven’s notions of “heart” and “worldview” in their relation to philosophy and life to give a powerful new sense to Lewis’s story of the spiritual drift floating him inexorably and largely, it must be admitted, downcast and chagrined into the arms of his Lord. As one of the thesis examiners suggested, Stefan’s thesis marked a new way to read not just Surprised by Joy but indeed Lewis's  entire corpus. So, whether providing the ICS community a version of O Tannenbaum that doubles as a primer in Dooyeweerdian modal ontology (a performance surely still available on You Tube), or providing the hordes of Inkling fans a new way to appreciate the meaning and weave of Lewis’s sense of the world—the reformational tradition (at least in its ICS version) is henceforth marked by an unusual and precious graffiti scribble announcing that “Stefan Knibbe Was Here.”


Joanna Sheridan (by Shannon Hoff)

Joanna Sheridan tackles an ancient paradox in her thesis Learning as Transcendence: The Solution to the Learner’s Paradox in Plato and Merleau-Ponty. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, is said to have put the paradox in the following way: “a man cannot inquire either about that which he knows, or about that which he does not know, for if he knows, he has no need to inquire; and if not, he cannot; for he does not know the very subject about which he is to inquire” (Plato, Meno, 80d-e). In other words, learning can never happen, since if we know what we’re looking for then it is unnecessary and if we don’t know what we’re looking for then it is impossible! Joanna shows that the paradox is misleading because it presumes that we operate in the mode of clear and explicit reflection and that we control and accomplish our own learning, whereas we really operate in terms of a basic, unreflective familiarity with the world and we really exist as an ambiguous mix of ourselves and others, ourselves and the world around us, all of which propels us toward learning. As Joanna writes, we are constantly transcending ourselves, becoming more than we are, saying more than we can say, knowing more than we know, and it is the grace of the world and of others that moves us to self-transcendence.

Joanna’s work is remarkable in many ways. Her writing is inviting, alive both to the demands of structure and the desirability of elegant turns of phrase; she has developed agile interpretations of very difficult texts; and she has found fraternity where many see mostly opposition in the work of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, an English philosopher of the early modern tradition, John Locke, and a French philosopher of the phenomenological tradition, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. We don’t know at the moment what piece of the world will benefit from Joanna’s talent, but we wish for her the continued grace of self-transcendence in all of her future endeavours.


Matthew Johnson (by Ronald A. Kuipers)

Matt came to ICS after completing an undergraduate degree at Briercrest College in Caronport, Saskatchewan. Before coming to ICS, he also served as a Music Director at a church in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he met his wife Jill. The strong academic reputation of ICS actually reached Matt’s ears while he was enrolled at McMaster Divinity School, pursuing the degree of Master of Theological Studies. Nursing a burgeoning interest in philosophy, Matt decided to transfer from McMaster to ICS midstream, and enrolled in our MA program in 2012. Upon arrival, Matt first thought to continue to pursue his interest in the liturgical role of music. As it turned out, however, he came to be more and more interested in philosophical issues related to the natural sciences, as is readily understandable once one learns that at this time Jill was pursuing a Master’s degree in psychology at Ryerson University. The particular area Matt’s thesis focuses upon is biological theories of emergence, particularly the idea of ‘strong emergence’. For Matt, strong emergence names the process whereby creational development drives towards ever greater levels of complexity and novelty, levels that cannot simply be predicted based on previous stages of evolutionary development. Matt’s scholarship in this area entertains a hunch that, in different ways, both pragmatic and hermeneutic philosophy could helpfully contextualize biological theories of strong emergence, helping us understand how human creatures in particular could be both the products of natural processes, but also free and responsible with respect to how they carry themselves within that endowment. His research led to the composition of a highly creative thesis entitled Liberating Emergence: Human Dependence and Autonomy in Emergentism, Hermeneutics, and Pragmatism. The external examiner, Professor Tom Reynolds of Emmanuel College, offered these words of praise for Matt’s thesis: “Given the significant range and depth of the literature discussed, the thesis shows an impressive ability to focus the discussion without compromising nuance or sacrificing substance. The discussion is careful in its selection of relevant material … and creative in making connections between authors/issues and gathering the results into a coherent package. A really fine achievement.”


Joseph Kirby and Joseph Tang (by Ronald A. Kuipers)

ICS Ph.D. candidates Joseph Kirby and Joseph Tang successfully completed their Ph.D. Area Examinations this Spring. Kirby completed his exam on March 9, 2015, defending a doctoral dissertation proposal entitled, “On the Origins of Nihilism and the Rhetoric of Moral Ontology.” Tang completed his exam on May 25, 2015, defending a proposal entitled, “The Gift of a Hopeful Imaginary: Subjectivity, Intersubjectivity, and Ethics according to Jürgen Habermas and Paul Ricoeur.”

On these dates, each candidate sat a two-hour oral exam, which formed the culmination of a rigorous process that includes composing four essays in response to prior questions put to them by their examiners. With these examinations behind them, the two Josephs are now ‘ABD’ (all but dissertation), and are set to embark on the research and writing of the dissertation proper.