June 12, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 19

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    Graduate Teaching Award: David Tracy

    Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School "Chicago students are extraordinary," says David Tracy. "By the end of each graduate course I teach, the students have become colleagues. It is a great luxury to teach in that environment."

    Tracy, the Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the Committee on Social Thought, said he was shocked when he learned he was receiving a Faculty Teaching Award.

    "It was completely unexpected, and I am honored," he said. "I suppose I tend to love the material I'm teaching and that comes across to students."

    Tracy, who was nominated for the award by students in Social Thought, teaches contemporary theology in the Divinity School and classics and early modernity in the Committee of Social Thought. Currently, he is advising 15 graduate students who do research in a wide range of topics, from homelessness in Emerson and Thoreau to Plato's Republic to contemporary figures like Simone Weil and Latin American theologian Gustavo Guttierz.

    "The great thing about Chicago -- one of the great things -- is having these degree-granting committees like Social Thought. They encourage both the faculty and the students to expand their intellectual interests. I love that. You can't do theology or philosophy without expanding all the time," Tracy said.

    Tracy added that he sees an invigorating difference between Divinity School and Social Thought students. "Divinity School students are focused on certain questions they have," he said. "In Social Thought, they tend to be wide-ranging intellectuals. I like both kinds of students, and together it makes a nice balance for me as a teacher."

    A University faculty member since 1969, Tracy was the first Catholic priest to be appointed to the Divinity School. His many books include the widely praised Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (1975) and On Naming the Present (1995).

    Tracy is presently writing a book on God. He plans to teach a course on his emerging text at Harvard in the fall and at Chicago in the spring.

    "God is a topic that rivets my attention and always has," Tracy said. "In this book I try to articulate why that is, and explore the thinkers that I tend to converse with on this subject."

    Tracy said that he is using literary theory to study the narrative of the Bible; for example, the words of praise that are used to describe God in psalms and the words of lament in the book of lamentations. He noted that different groups, even within the same tradition, have looked on God very differently.

    "In the Christian tradition, the metaphor for naming God is love," he said. "But the Calvinists had a profound sense of the awesomeness of God and of the mystery of God, and contemporary cosmologists have a sense of the intelligence of God. I am not trying to find answers, but am exploring a fuller range of the questions the issue of God raises beyond which 'ism' -- deism, theism, atheism and so on -- is the best one."

    -- Jennifer Vanasco