Faculty Interview — Jason Whitlark — Part 2

Jason Whitlark is Associate Professor and Faculty Assistant Director in BIC, where he primarily teaches World Cultures I and Biblical Heritage. Dr. Whitlark holds a Ph.D. in New Testament from the Religion Department at Baylor, and he has a new book that was published in 2014–Resisting Emprire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews. We hope you enjoy learning more about Dr. Whitlark and his research. This is Part 2 of a two part interview (read Part 1).

Whitlark photoWhere do you see your research going in the future? Are you working on any new projects?

My research is still focused on interpreting the Letter to the Hebrews. My main project presently is to publish a book on the rhetorical structure of this letter. I have been working on this project for a few years now with a friend from my graduate school days. We think we have solved the puzzle to the structure and genre of this letter by studying the instructions of the rhetorical theorists. Thus, I have been immersed in ancient rhetorical handbooks. We are excited about what we have found. What remains is to pull our complete argument together for the book and find a publisher. Hebrews continues to be a fascinating text that should continue to occupy my thoughts over the next few years.

Does Baylor have a shot at making the College Football Playoff next season?

So Baylor has shown that it is a power with which to contend in the Big 12, which puzzlingly still only has 10 teams. I think, however, that Baylor has both a Big 12 and scheduling problem. Because Baylor is not a name-brand team any weakness in its schedule gets amplified. Also by not having a championship game, the Big 12 has taken a hit from the playoff committee. With that said, I think if Baylor goes undefeated and puts the hammer down on traditional powers and TCU, then Baylor will be in the playoff. Sic’em Bears!

Is there anything interesting happening with you and your family?

If you come to our house these days you will find that you have entered the world of Middle Earth with elves, hobbits, dwarfs, orcs, even Asok the Defiler. Somewhere in the office lies Mount Doom where we must destroy the ring of power (presently my wedding ring). This all happened quite suddenly. Over the Christmas break my daughter watched The Desolation of Smaug. I had been subtly trying to get her interested in it anyway. The Five Armies was about to come out and I was hoping she would go with me to see it. Well it all worked. The second Hobbit movie captured her imagination so much so that she watched the first one and then went to see the release of the third one. We then watched through the movies all once more when she realized that the story continued from the third Hobbit movie. Well then Christmas turned out to be a Lord of the Rings marathon which then resulted in us subsequently purchasing electronic copies for VUDU so she could watch the movies anywhere. It has been a fun journey to say the least. We talk about sin now as “dragon sickness.” We have a budding egalitarian. Women warriors are awesome. Tauriel is definitely the favorite. Any Gimli quote is always comic relief in the household. We are now trying to read The Hobbit and are hoping that they will make the pre-prequel on the origins of Middle Earth and the races that inhabited it.

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Faculty Interview — Jason Whitlark (Part 1)

Jason Whitlark is Associate Professor and Faculty Assistant Director in BIC, where he primarily teaches World Cultures I and Biblical Heritage. Dr. Whitlark holds a Ph.D. in New Testament from the Religion Department at Baylor, and he has a new book that was published in 2014–Resisting Emprire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews. We hope you enjoy learning more about Dr. Whitlark and his research. This is Part 1 of a two part interview. Part 2 will be published later this week.

Whitlark photoHow long have you been teaching in the BIC? What do you find most rewarding about working with BIC students?

I started teaching in the BIC in the Fall 2007. To be honest, I am not sure what I was getting into, but I found the experience in the BIC to be transformative not only for the students but myself as well. Probably the most rewarding aspect about working with BIC students is sharing in their journeys while they are here at Baylor. I get to see BICers enter their college life full of hopes, dreams, and some anxieties, and then I get to see them think deeply about their lives and their vocational pursuits. Their questions, reflections, and learning always cause me to think deeply about my own life and vocation here at Baylor. I did not begin the BIC program (though I wish I could have that glory), but I believe in it because of how it has changed me and not just the students.

Tell us about your new book that recently came out.

My recent book is entitled, Resisting Empire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews published in the Library of New Testament Studies with T&T Clark. In scholarship on Hebrews, there are some, like me, who see the Letter to the Hebrews written to a Christian congregation of predominantly Gentiles living in Rome in the latter half of the first-century (likely after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by Rome in 70 A.D.). It is clear from the letter that many in the community suffered and were suffering for their confession of Jesus Christ. They were imprisoned, shamed, had their property confiscated, and possibly exiled or martyred. That suffering was tempting some to re-identify with imperial Rome in order to avoid further suffering. The book then explores the ways in which Hebrews, through the use of covert allusion, pushes against the pressures those in the community were facing from their imperial context. For example, the author concludes his correspondence with the statement: “here we do not have city that remains but look for one that comes.” While the author speaks in generic terms about two cities, it seems to me that the audience of Hebrews would have heard the author take a jab at Rome’s boast to be the “eternal city”—an epithet still used today for Rome but now more for tourism. Instead the audience is to continue to identify with Jesus, including the shame he suffered on earth, and to hope for his coming eternal city—the heavenly Jerusalem. Continue reading

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“A Lesson on Comedy” — Dr. Perry in the Lariat

Sam Perry

From the Baylor Lariat (read the full article):

Dr. Samuel Perry, assistant professor of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and Honors College, and Waco community members gathered at 5:30 p.m. at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church to discuss the effects of laughing at culturally and racially sensitive jokes.

The Community Race Relations Coalition’s crowd of nearly 50 participants welcomed Perry to its quarterly meeting.

“Comedy provides a way to talk about things that remain difficult to understand,” Perry said during his discussion on navigating how to react to hearing culturally and racially sensitive jokes.

Perry welcomed comments and questions from the diverse audience, which included questions about how to educate someone after they have made a joke with an intention to harm others.

The Southeast Texas native stressed the importance of knowing the intention and context of jokes as a way to be mindful of what someone is truly laughing at.

While Perry’s lecture was a lesson on comedy, it was not a dictation on what one is allowed to laugh at. This was all in an attempt to avoid limiting a person’s free speech. [read the rest at the Lariat website]

Photo credit: Kevin Freeman, Lariat photographer

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Houston Chronicle Op-Ed — Mark Long

chronicle image

[The following article was written by Dr. Mark Long and appeared in the January 18, 2015 print edition of the Houston Chronicle]

“Looking for a Boy Named Rhonda”

To grow up in the South in the 1950s was to enjoy all the comforts of segregation, at least if you were white. And so I did. In my suburban neighborhood in Houston (West University), mine was an almost idyllic early childhood of segregated security, segregated good schools, an all-white Little League baseball team. My acquaintance with Black Americans was rather limited, and those I did meet showed me a kind of deference as a white that now causes me to wince as I recall it. Moreover, to travel in the South was to see firsthand the Jim Crow laws that still prevailed: motels that were marked “whites only,” the crudest sort of toilet facilities marked “coloreds only,” and the side by side water fountains, one with a deluxe water cooler and the other little more than a simple faucet. I need not indicate which was for whom.

Apart from our black maid, a kind of surrogate mother (both “ship and safe harbor,” as writer Toni Morrison puts it), my only other contact with people of color was limited to our neighborhood yardman, someone we knew simply as “Wallace,” and with his sons. Wallace–first name? Last name? I never learned–came weekly from cross-town to do several of the lawns in our area. All his boys save the youngest, who appeared to be about my age, helped with the chores. For at least two summers I saw Wallace’s youngest from a distance as we would stand and stare at each other briefly. Then came the day—I would have been about nine—when we bridged the distance. Continue reading

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Dr. Long in Saudi Arabia

mark long

A few words from Dr. Mark Long who just returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia. Dr. Long writes:

“This photo is from New Year’s Day on the Persian Gulf. I had traveled to Saudi Arabia with a group of students and faculty from different universities across the States. This picture was taken outside Jubail, where most of the Kingdom’s oil resources are located. During the two week trip we met with representatives of government, industry, the media, and other universities.”

Update 1/30/2015: Dr. Long has written an extended reflection on his recent travels in Saudi Arabia published at the Waco Tribune-Herald. It’s well worth the read–link. Here is a brief excerpt from the article:

“The sun slowly emerged from the mauve haze over the water. Black shore birds dined along the coast, as seagulls performed their acrobatics above them. Several couples walked along the corniche in al-Khobar in the cool air, their amble just the right pace for quiet conversation and the chance to watch the spreading light over the ripples. Some, just as I was doing, ran along the curving walk by water’s edge.

“Others had gathered to do calisthenics. But most of us paused for the moment when the sun emerged and began to turn a deep red. And then the young couple. He watched as she adjusted her hijab, face uncovered. Turning away from the magnificent sunrise, she held her phone at arm’s length to take a selfie. I saw that in the cool morning, half a world away from Waco, as I ran along the Persian Gulf (or “Arabian Gulf,” as my Saudi hosts would remind me) on the first day of 2015.” (read the full article)

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Faculty Research — Davide Zori

zoriDavide Zori is one of the newest additions to the BIC faculty, having just completed his first semester at Baylor. Dr. Zori’s research concentrates on the Viking expansion into the North Atlantic. He conducts archaeological fieldwork in Iceland addressing the interaction of the Norse settlers with new environments, the construction of a migrant society, and the subsequent evolution of endemic political systems. Baylor Media Communications recently highlighted Dr. Zori’s research in an article titled “Beef, Beer, and Politics.” You can read an excerpt below or go to the Media Communications website for the full story, written by Terry Goodrich.


Vikings are stereotyped as raiders and traders, but those who settled in Iceland centuries ago spent more time producing and consuming booze and beef — in part to achieve political ambitions in an environment very different from their Scandinavian homeland, says a Baylor University archaeologist.

The seafaring warriors wanted to sustain the “big man” society of Scandinavia — a political economy in which chieftains hosted huge feasts of beer and beef served in great halls, says Davide Zori, Ph.D., a Denmark native and archeological field director in Iceland, who conducted National Science Foundation-funded research in archeology and medieval Viking literature.

But instead, what Zori and his team discovered is what happened when the Vikings spent too long living too high on the hog — or, in this case, the bovine.

“It was somewhat like the barbecue here. You wanted a big steak on the grill,” said Zori, assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, who co-edited the book Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaelogical Project with Jesse Byock, Ph.D., professor of Old Norse and medieval Scandinavian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It made it really showy — if you could keep it up.” [read the full article]

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Alumni Interview — Kandace Hillebrandt (’10)

With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. At least once each year we hope to publish brief “Alumni Updates” where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we are posting interviews with some of our alumni. This month we are excited to post an interview with Kandace Hillebrandt (’10). This interview was conducted during the summer of 2014. We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.

Kandace HillebrandtWhat year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?

I graduated from Baylor in December 2010 with a Bachelors of Social Work degree. I also graduated in December 2012 with a Masters of Social Work from Florida State University.

What are you doing currently for work/career? What do you enjoy most about your work?

I currently work as the Program Specialist at the Area Agency on Aging. Under the supervision of the Program Manger, the Program Specialist administers the Title IIIB, C-1, and C2 Programs, Title IIID Health and Wellness Program, Title VII Elder Abuse Prevention Program, and seeks grant opportunities that fall in the scope of the Agency’s mission. I most enjoy being able to work directly with clients at the local senior centers in our 14 county service area. I lead various evidence-based health and wellness programs with seniors and present on elder abuse prevention.

How has your BIC education influenced your life/career since leaving Baylor?

The BIC definitely taught me to look at the world in a new and different way. I learned how to analyze multiple viewpoints and carefully consider my own opinions. I developed a deeper and stronger belief system that has influenced how I approach my work and my life.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in BIC?

Some of my favorite memories from the BIC involve the amazing trips we took as a group. Each outing has unique and special stories surrounding it. However, my absolute favorite memory is the intense group study sessions we had at Erik and Travis’s apartment. More than 10 of us would cram into this tiny apartment living room to discuss and prepare for exams. Being able to openly express and debate our opinions was a fascinating experience. I believe we each learned more about the subject and ourselves during these sessions.

Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?

During Social World we read and discussed Plato’s Republic for weeks on end and because of that I will always remember exactly what justice is.

What are your goals for the future?

In August [2014] I will begin classes at Florida State University College of Law. I eventually want to practice elder care law in the non-profit sector. I will always be a social worker and want that to be a driving factor in my law practice. Eventually I would like to be the executive director of a local public guardianship office. During my master’s degree internship I worked as a case manager at the Office of Public Guardian in Tallahassee and I loved the clients and work there. The attorney there really inspired me to continue my education.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to share that I understand how difficult the program is and college life in general. When I was at Baylor I suffered with severe depression. It was even bad enough I had to drop out for a semester. If it was not for the relationships I developed within the BIC I never could have continued school and finished. My friends within the program and my professors strengthened me. The work is extremely challenging at times, but pays off in so many ways. I became more knowledgeable and aware of the world around me.

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ISIL: Defenders of the New Caliphate — Lee Shaw

[The following is posted from the BIC student blog, QuickBIC, and is written by BIC freshman, Lee Shaw. The article is a response to a recent panel discussion sponsored by the BIC Leadership Council, “Examining ISIS,” which included BIC professors Mark Long, Lynn Tatum, and Sam Perry.]

Now when Al Qaeda kicks you out, we’ve got a serious problem on our hands… –Dr. Lynn Tatum

While still part of Al Qaeda the group was simply referred to as AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq). Once excommunicated, the extremists spread into Syria and became known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria0. As they advance through Syria and into the region called the Levant, however, this group has been labeled ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant). Muslims, however, refer to this group as DAISH (Al-Dawlah Al-Islamiyah fe Al-Iraq wa Al-Sham), as they do not want ISIL to be associated with Islam at all.

No matter what you call them, ISIL is waging a war against what they call “Crusaders.” In vanquishing “Crusaders” such as Americans and dissenting Muslims among other outsiders, ISIL hopes to create a new and perfect caliphate, the end-all-be-all Islamic state. They believe their faith gives them moral clemency when it comes to killing.

On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, over one hundred BIC students attended the BIC event “Examining ISIS.” The panel discussion was led by Dr. Lynn Tatum, Dr. Mark Long, and Dr. Sam Perry (each a beloved and esteemed BIC professor in his own right), with a focus on the implications of ISIL as they advance through Southwest Asia.  Continue reading

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Alumni Interview — Malle Carrasco (’12)

With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. At least once each year we hope to publish brief “Alumni Updates” where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we are posting interviews with some of our alumni. This month we are excited to post an interview with Malle Carrasco (’12). We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.


What year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?

I graduated in 2012 and received a BS in Biology with a minor in chemistry, with particular interest in the interface between physiology and ecology.

I understand you recently finished two years of teaching with Teach for America. Tell us some about that experience, what you learned, and how it might influence your future career goals. What’s next for you?

During my time at Baylor, I was a supplemental instructor for physics. Julie Cash was a great leader for us, and I really enjoyed working with my peers and seeing them succeed. Alongside that, I had done some research with graduate students at Baylor as well as in Colorado, and I came to realize many of them did not take the “traditional” undergraduate to graduate school pathway. I wanted to grow and develop more before I continued my education, and when I heard about Teach for America (TFA), I knew I had found an organization that would help me grow into a better leader as well as make an impact on students’ lives.

When I got to work, however, I realized one thing was painfully true: learning to teach is difficult. Especially when most of us are accustomed to being fairly successful at what we have been doing a majority of our lives. The first semester, I honestly wanted to quit just about every other day. I wanted to do any job that would let me clock in and out with no responsibility once I got home. However, I often remembered my high school physics teacher arriving at school at 6 am to tutor; or Dr. Long in the BIC department making time in his busy schedule to hear your hearts as you navigate your future choices. Thinking of them, I knew that I had a responsibility to give back because so much had been given to me.

Although the learning and growing curve was steep, there were several sweet lessons I learned:

Community is a non-negotiable: In the “real world,” I had to learn to be much more intentional and one-on-one because I could too easily drown myself in work and find myself resenting this place I had no established roots in. Once I made my “non-negotiables,” I learned to balance the never-ending to-do list with community and fellowship.

Grace is reciprocal: I was sometimes a poorly prepared and impatient teacher. My students were sometimes disrespectful and immature adolescents. Despite our imperfections, they taught me best what it is to start fresh the next day, the next class, the next moment.

Love is patient: Loving my students often meant working late hours trying to complete lesson plans, grading, or calling parents. As I was in the learning process, I needed to be patient with myself as I stumbled along towards progress, but most of all I needed my students to be patient with me. We had some tough challenges to overcome, but they continued coming to class, stoking their natural desire to learn, and worked through challenges they had before them. In the growth, we laughed, we cried, we were patient with one another.

I have cherished these lessons learned and felt a sense of satisfaction and belief I was making a difference. This coming year I will be attending the University of Memphis as a doctoral candidate in Biology. Teaching 9th graders, a special and awkward time in our lives when we crave so much community, grace and love, I learned that I needed those things as much as everyone else around me, and it has given me a new perspective about how I will interact with coworkers, professors, and the community while I’m in school again. My experience as a corps member allowed me to mature and grow as not only a leader but also a decent human being.

How has your BIC education influenced your life/work since leaving Baylor?

BIC comes up often when I talk to people about my Baylor education, because it helped me appreciate topics that I had not preferred previously. I didn’t enjoy History because I didn’t naturally find it as relevant to my life as science or math. Through our readings, discussions, and community, I was able to use past peoples and cultures to process my current life and experiences. When I started teaching Biology, my daily task was: how do I make this interesting and relevant to a group of fourteen year olds. Whether it was creating games to mimic processes, dressing up as historical scientists, or changing note-taking styles to activate their minds and bodies, I was given the task that my BIC professors had: make it matter.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in BIC?

I have many favorite memories from BIC! It’s an eccentric group. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the very first class, in which Dr. Hanks welcomed us with a huge smile, addressed us as colleagues, and then jumped into a discussion about language. I knew the people in the room would challenge me, but the way we were spoken to made me feel like it would be a challenge worth taking on.

Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?

That music is not a universal language (especially after hearing some Australian aborigine’s music). It taught me to consider perspectives.

What are your goals for the future?

After my doctorate, my general goal is to leave with the knowledge and skills to effectively conduct and communicate relevant scientific research in order to help others understand the creatures we share space with.

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Welcome to the BIC — Grace Lee

welcome week 2

Each year new students are introduced to Baylor through Welcome Week activities during the week before classes begin. In BIC, an important part of Welcome Week is the Friday night dinner with all the new BIC students and many BIC faculty. This year two current BIC students, Rohit Ayaggari and Grace Lee, offered words of wisdom to the new BIC freshmen. Below you will find comments from Grace Lee, sophomore BIC student, and last week we posted comments offered by Rohit Ayyagari.


Hi everyone! My name is Grace Lee and I am so excited to see and eventually meet all of you. I am a sophomore this year and I will be a Peer Instructor for Dr. Hibbs’ World Cultures class. I am excited to see you all here, first of all because I want to be friends with y’all and get to know you better, but even more so because I know the amazing experiences that you will have at Baylor and in BIC. I can say that as a Freshman coming into BIC, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. I knew a little about BIC because of my brother, who is two years ahead of me at Baylor and strongly encouraged me to do BIC because of all his wonderful experiences, but I didn’t really know the extent of what it was about. So now, after having completed a year of BIC, I can say that choosing to be a part of BIC has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in college. Yes, BIC is a challenge, but it is well worth it. It is a place where you are likely going to meet some of your closest friends, a place where you can be challenged beyond what you think you can do, and a place where you will grow academically, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually.

Through BIC I was able to explore new cultures. I’m a big fan of travelling. I LOVE it. This winter, I went to Thailand and when I was there, I saw a mural-like image of one of the subjects that we had studied in World Cultures I in one of the temples I visited. This summer, in Xi’an, China, I saw a building that was in a famous Chinese story that we read in World Cultures II. I think it’s amazing to be able to learn about things and then experience them. And you don’t have to travel around the world to do that. I love BIC because you get to experience different cultures, even around Waco. I know you guys will be able to visit a Mosque, a Temple, and more in your coming year. These trips are great because you are able to not only learn about other cultures, but also immerse yourself in them.

I could just go on and on about things that I think are great about BIC and that I love, but I won’t do that to y’all cause I’d probably keep you here awhile. I am really so excited to see how each and every one of you will grow during your time in BIC, each in your own way. And even when things get challenging, don’t give up! It’s often persevering through the challenge that is the most rewarding. And know that you’re not alone. You have an awesome community of people around you, and teachers and Peer Instructors that would love to help you. Thanks so much for listening and I hope you guys have the most amazing year ever!

Grace Lee is a sophomore Pre-Business major and a Peer Instructor for World Cultures I.

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