Dr. Scott Cairns on Saint Katherine College
Dr. Scott Cairns was in residence at Saint Katherine College during the spring 2012 semester. In addition to teaching a semester-long course entitled “Writing the Spiritual Journey”, Dr. Cairns offered two public lectures at the Monday evening Saint Katherine College Forum and led a Writers’ Retreat/Seminar “Writing the Road Travelled” at the college.
As the spring 2012 semester was concluding, Dr. Cairns was asked to reflect upon his experiences at Saint Katherine College and expectations and hope for its future.
Dr. Cairns, now that you have been in residence at Saint Katherine College for a semester, how would you describe its culture and atmosphere?
I’d say that both are developing. The college culture is a work-in-progress, bringing together Orthodox students and faculty (as well as some very devout non-Orthodox) with a gracious will to discover the deep and sustaining Tradition that lies at the heart of our various traditions. The atmosphere is one of quiet determination, of diligence coupled with a somewhat subdued sense of exhilaration at the prospect of the profound vision being realized here.
Has there been a particular time or moment during your stay that has left a lasting impression?
Not so much a single moment, but a compelling sense of community and common purpose.
What has surprised you the most in your experiences with the students, faculty, or the community surrounding Saint Katherine?
The students are delightful, if necessarily young and—perhaps for that reason—not uniformly aware of the amazing gift, the uncommon opportunities being offered them here. I have a sense that some are squandering these opportunities for high caliber, individualized study with nationally engaged faculty, perhaps because they imagine they would have the same opportunities in a larger college or university. I hope they figure it out. The faculty and the staff, as I’ve suggested, are quite remarkable for their level of accomplishment and for the degree to which they have committed their careers—their lives—to assuring the successful establishment of Saint Katherine College.
One of the most extraordinary developments so far in the life of Saint Katherine has been the early establishment of our excellent literary journal, something many institutions do not have until many years after their founding. How do you see the role of the Saint Katherine Review as part of the ethos of the College? What are your hopes for its future?
The journal manifests the underlying premise of Saint Katherine College: that anything worth doing is worth doing well, worth doing exceedingly well. The literary work—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translations, etc.—appearing in our journal is not uniform, but it is unified in being well worked in terms of both matter and shape, content and form. As our beloved Dostoevsky observed, “beauty will save the world”; Saint Katherine College, in general, and Saint Katherine Review, in particular, is the objective correlative of that belief, the sense that shapely, pleasing, soul-opening works of art have a redemptive effect, one that is discovered by author and reader alike.
If the College could be given one important gift immediately, what would you choose?
President Papatheofanis has spoken about a remarkable plan he has for establishing Named Endowed Chairs in a variety of academic fields in both the arts and sciences. He envisions bringing in nationally prominent faculty by means of these Chairs—which would be funded as a kind of hybrid, pairing significant contributions (received in annual installments) with college operating funds. I have a keen sense that the prominent faculty placed in such Named Chairs would attract many high caliber students. These students and their uncommon experience—essentially receiving a graduate school experience during their undergraduate education—could be expected to bring great honor to themselves and to their alma mater, Saint Katherine College. This is his vision. I also see it; I feel it. May it be blessed.
What advice or encouragement might you give to prospective students and their families?
I would suggest that they seek to glimpse the estimable advantage that a young man or woman would find in having been educated in seminar settings with nationally prominent faculty, and the advantage of having been treated as what I would call a “colleague-in-the-making,” rather than as a client or consumer or simply as one of several hundred or several thousand undergraduates. What Saint Katherine College offers is, essentially, a classical education with exhilarating contemporary implications, and it is precisely the sort of education that I wish I had been offered as an undergraduate.
Dr. Scott Cairns is Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair in English at the University of Missouri. He has taught at numerous universities including University of North Texas, and Old Dominion University and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2006. Dr. Cairn’s nine books include poetry collections, spiritual memoir, essays, and translations. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Image, Spiritus, and Tiferet, and have been anthologized in Upholding Mystery (Oxford UP ’96), Best Spiritual Writing (Harper Collins ’98 and ’00), and Best American Spiritual Writing (Houghton Mifflin, ‘04, ’05, and ’06). He serves as a reader/psalti at Saint Luke the Evangelist Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia, Missouri. Dr. Cairns is also the editor of the Saint Katherine Review, the sixth issue of which was released in April 2012.