Spring 2021 Wesleyan Magazine

Page 16

F E AT U R E

“Religious illiteracy hampers so much of what we do in the world today.” Chad Pevateaux

Kendra Weddle

Chad Pevateaux, assistant professor of religion and philosophy

The Fire Under Grace A new generation of religion professors connects the mysteries of faith to the realities of modern life.

I

n a normal semester, Chad Pevateaux, assistant professor of religion and philosophy, might walk into class with a handful of dirt to throw on a desk. He’s not playing in the sandbox – he uses it to explain how the ideas of “clean” and “dirty” relate to one another. Outside it is soil, inside it’s just dirt. But it’s hard to mail dirt to virtual students without getting a few looks at the post office. Thankfully, he’s found ways to improvise. “Grace has certainly been the watchword of this past semester,” Pevateaux said.

Still, an unorthodox semester has hidden blessings for an unorthodox religion professor who named his cat “Ari” after Dionysius the Areopagite, one of Christian mysticism’s patriarchs (his dog, Jack, is named after a mere philosopher). Pevateaux, who also teaches courses on religion and the environment, calls his spare opportunities for long runs “his bliss.” He’s been bicycling the Trinity Trails regularly. 14

Wesleyan | SPRING 2021

“I’m not trying to give [students] the best answers,” Pevateaux said, “as much as I am trying to give them the best questions.”

He’s heard more than his share of good questions. Pevateaux worked as a youth minister at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Austin for eight years, and while that might conjure images of church gyms and singalongs for some, it’s often weighty work. Many students were dealing with serious issues – suicidal thoughts, poor self-image – and the questions those students asked weighed on Pevateaux. Then came 9/11.

Those difficult days were full of questions without answers – in those places where black and white turn gray. He studied mystics and the history of mysticism across religions, including his own in graduate school – first at Harvard and then at Rice. These gray areas have a funny effect – they are common ground for many religions. The silence after a question


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