Name: Douglas Finn
Undergraduate degrees: Religious Studies and German Lit Wabash College
Graduate degrees: Masters and PhD at Notre Dame with a primary emphasis on historical theology
Classes: Perspectives, Grad Class on Augustine Life and Thought, Augustine Confessions, Augustine’s Book on the Trinity
True to his philosophical nature, when asked about his education, career journey, and time at Boston College, Perspectives teacher Douglas Finn answered in more general terms than to his specific case.
“It’s all about finding a way to balance everything out,” he said. “One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is covering a range of topics regardless of major. For students heading into the more quantifiable disciplines, they should push themselves to take more writing classes to be more well-rounded. Students heading into the humanities should challenge themselves in their numeracy and in sciences. The core classes are meant to accomplish this as a minimum.”
When prompted further, he went on to express that he personally wishes he had pushed himself more to do understand statistical analysis and math in relation to the world. He brings up this past election as an example: “It has shown us how both sets of skills are crucial: verbal and humanities research skills, as well as scientific and mathematical skill. The problem is that we have uninformed people and always have. The problem a long time ago was lack of access to information, but we built libraries to fix that. Now we have too much information, and there are concerted efforts to intentionally deceive regardless of source, that one needs to learn to make decisions to ascertain truth. Evaluate critically the sources, arguments, and numbers people use. There should be an ongoing effort for students to maintain critical skills and be able to relay that to people.
One of the bigger problems is an increased silholization. Too many people are entering echo-chambers because they only talk to people ideologically similar to themselves. This is dangerous in a number of ways, because it limits their abilities to think outside the box. Not to say their position isn’t right, or that they shouldn’t hold a certain position, but they need to look at different arguments with this qualification: I think one of the biggest tasks today is to distinguish pseudo science from real science.” Professor Finn goes on to discuss how it’s not enough to just hear another viewpoint, but people must also be able to evaluate that viewpoint. The importance for him is finding the sources people use.
So how did Professor Finn end up teaching philosophy and theology at Boston College for the last five and a half years?
A mix of personal and intellectual reasons. He’s always had an interest in the study of religion as an important social and human phenomenon. He wanted to learn more about the ideas and the social forces and institutions that have been so decisive over history. Having grown up Catholic, he was interested in the development of ideas in his own traditions, and felt like he owed it to himself to learn as much as possible about his own background.
What are some of Profess Finn’s favorite aspects of his job?
I love that I can continue to learn, think, write, and teach. Improving practical skills, understanding how I think, understanding my field. It’s built in, it’s encouraged. It has built in inducements to self-improvement. This is not job for anyone who is incurious. I like the human connection. One of the aspects of the job that is so important to me is the instructor/student relationship. I enjoy seeing students grow and develop. It’s neat to see how students change over the course of four years. Seeing them develop is very rewarding, and most of that has nothing to do with me or my influence. But having known students in their first year, it’s important for me to have played a small role in the beginning. There’s such extended contact. Getting to know students’ strengths and weakness, you can help them grow effectively.
Students can come to talk to Professor Finn about…
They can come to me asking for career advice, and I will tell them to just go with the humanities, but advise them to gain marketable skills, as well. I’m not a trained therapist. I think it would be presumptuous and dangerous for me to say I can handle all the needs of students emotional, spiritual, and academic well-being. I don’t mince words. Because their parents are worried they won’t be able to get a job, and I always let the students know that they aren’t wasting their time studying English or Philosophy. I’m always willing to help students find a pathway to make using a humanities degree to find a job. I have some advice that isn’t necessarily so bad. I especially like talking to students if they’re interested in studying abroad, because I have quite a bit of experience with that. Especially if students are interested in Philosophy and Theology major, I’m very happy to talk to students. We want to improve the number of students in the major, but I’m very realistic about it. Now is the time you can be carefree, but you need to be thinking longer term. You close certain doors if you don’t prepare now. I want to help them realize what doors open and which ones closed.
What activities do you enjoy outside of your job?
I like hiking with my dog and fixer-upper projects.