Faculty Feature: Dr. Heather Hess
Faculty Feature is a series in The Blue Tribune that recognizes the excellent professors and staff of Covenant College through a series of questions.
This week we're highlighting Dr. Heather Hess '09, Associate Professor of English.
What brought you to Covenant? How long have you been teaching?
Having experienced the spiritual and intellectual richness of a Covenant education as an undergraduate, I was eager to get back to the mountain and curate that formative experience for others. It is a delight and privilege to have a job where I am not merely allowed, but encouraged and expected to integrate faith with learning. I have been teaching for 11 years now, and the 6 of those years that have been at Covenant have been deeply rewarding.
What is your history with Covenant?
I attended Covenant as an undergraduate from 2005-2009, majoring in English and minoring in sociology. This community of faith and learning (both in and out of the classroom) was instrumental in shaping my perspective and deepening my love for God, his world, and the human beings who bear his image. As an English major I learned to conceive of human stories as subcreative echoes of God's original creative work, and to relish the way such stories can reflect profound biblical truth and transcendent beauty. For me, what I was learning in the literature classroom spilled over into every area of my life, imparting a holistic understanding of my place in this world as a steward of God's creation and a laborer in his kingdom. After I finished graduate school I jumped at the opportunity to come back and teach here.
What do you love about teaching at Covenant?
The students. They are curious, faithful people, who are happy to ask hard questions, willing to discuss ideas, eager to use scripture as a guide, and thoughtful in living out their convictions within their intellectual and social communities. I also admire and enjoy my faculty colleagues, who inspire me not only with their academic excellence, but also their humility and kindness. And Covenant's position on Lookout doesn't hurt either. As a life-long anglophile and lover of romanticism, I find deep comfort (a sort of Wordsworthian "life and food") in the mountain views and the swirling clouds that frequently obscure those views.
What is your history with the PCA or Reformed Tradition?
I have attended PCA churches all my life and the Reformed Tradition is one that feels deeply "mine," for better or worse. I find many of the central doctrines of this tradition--such as our reliance on God’s word and our celebration of common grace--essential and empowering. I also feel a responsibility to continually reform this tradition, acknowledging that it has never been and is not currently immune to a variety of failures. Fortunately, however, I do think the tradition itself equips us to undertake this constant, sanctifying work.
What is a current research project or area of interest you're excited about?
I specialize in 19th century British literature, and I've recently enjoyed thinking and writing about the literary child--particularly post-Romantic manifestations of Blakean or Wordsworthian children. I’ve previously written on C. S. Lewis’s revisions of the Romantic child and I'm currently working on a paper that explores how Dickens and Eliot utilize such characters for didactic and narratological purposes. This research has led me into scholarly conversations about reading and empathy, as well as reflection on the way our literary consumption--particularly of idealized, innocent child figures--evinces an underlying hunger for the living flesh of Christ.
How do you/your department encourage each student to pursue academic excellence?
I want my students to be constantly refining their sensitivity to the interplay between literature and faith, the reality of common grace and antithesis, and the sheer pleasure of well-crafted narrative, poetry, and prose. Literature speaks to the diversity and intricacy of human experience, so there is rarely a single “right” answer, and academic excellence may take a variety of forms. Nevertheless, a good English student will be characterized by growing curiosity and delight in reading, as well as increasing confidence in their stewardship of written and spoken communication. At Covenant, all of this is grounded in the knowledge that God is the original creator and the original story-teller.