Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. Rebecca received a 2012 Sabbatical Grant for Researchers for her project Resistance to the Demands of Love: Reflections on the Vice of Sloth. She shares with LI about her new book Vainglory: The Forgotten Vice.
LI: Rebecca, tell us about yourself and your current work.
RD: This past academic year, Eerdmans published my book Vainglory: The Forgotten Vice(2014). That project began with the Stob Lectures in 2010. Louisville Institute funding was key to giving me dedicated time to complete the book manuscript during my sabbatical year. Meanwhile, I participated in a Templeton Foundation grant from St. Louis University to study intellectual humility with two wonderful colleagues, Kevin Timpe and James Van Slyke. Our grant explored “Fundamental Practices of Intellectual Humility” and culminated in a two-week seminar for 15 participants in June 2015. ResPhilosophica also published two articles on the virtue of hope and the vice of despair in the work of Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274). My long term project is to continue work on my book on the vice of sloth, which also got underway on my sabbatical. I might feel sheepish about failing to complete a book on sloth (on sabbatical no less!) except that I am arguing that sloth is not laziness but a resistance to the transformative demands of God’s love for us. This book, like Glittering Vices and Vainglory, will be aimed at a general Christian audience, accessible to students of ethics and spiritual formation and pastors and Bible study groups alike.
LI: What core question/concern guided your Sabbatical Grant for Researchers project?
RD: For centuries vainglory was a standard member on the list of the seven capital vices (also known as deadly sins). Disordered ways of seeking attention and approval from others, especially for our appearance, seem like a perennial human temptation—perhaps especially now, in an age of unprecedented self-publicity through social media, iPhones, and an image-based culture. So why did this vice slip off the list or become conflated with pride? I argue that it deserves a place on the list as a vice in its own right. Naming it and explaining it can be very helpful in articulating specific weaknesses we all continue to struggle against. The Christian tradition wisely recommends spiritual disciplines such as silence and solitude to counter it, which I also discuss in the book.
LI: What did you learn about this ancient vice that surprised you?
RD: I have been teaching Augustine’s Confessions for years, but in his life story I now see more deeply how strong a force our preoccupation with human glory can be in shaping career aspirations, family relationships, and even our attitude toward Scripture. Augustine is wonderfully honest about how difficult these ongoing struggles can be. So I appreciated that fresh way of hearing his story, especially since it is so much like our own stories. The tradition also concentrates mainly on the ways vainglory is rooted in prideful arrogance, but I found that thinking about vainglory as arising from fear and neediness was equally important for bringing common forms of vainglory to light and thinking about what is needed for healing.
LI: How has your study of virtues/vices shaped your teaching?
RD: In too many ways to count! Some of my favorite examples: In my introductory classes in philosophy, and my ethics classes, we experiment with various spiritual disciplines while we read texts about the virtues and vices. Practice can effectively illuminate patterns in our life and character, especially when paired with reflective exercises and readings. So we try memento mori (remembering our death through a “write-your-own-eulogy” assignment) and also a modified version of the practice of silence, in which we all try not to talk about ourselves at all for a week and then journal about the experience. It always surprises me how difficult this is for most of us!
It also shapes the way I think about what I am trying to do in the classroom. The longer I teach, the more I find myself hoping to prompt students to shape their lives and habits in certain directions, rather than thinking of education as, say, imbibing factual content. MacIntyre’s After Virtue and Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life have been formative for me on this topic, as well as the inspiration of my colleague, David Smith, who leads the Kuyers Institute at Calvin College.