Art Mielke, longtime DVC adjunct professor in psychology and philosophy, is spending the 2014-2015 academic year as a Visiting Scholar in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow, in Glasgow, Scotland. Mielke’s present-day interest in researching existentialism and religious life is also a trip down memory lane, as he was an undergraduate 45 years ago at the same institution (which was founded in 1451). “Let’s face it,” he says, “we’re going back a few years. What I remember as a pretty unremarkable university district in a gritty Scottish city now has loads of trendy coffee shops, boutiques, restaurants, and pubs. And Glasgow, some decades after the decline of its heavy industries such as ship-building, now offers itself to the world as a ‘European’ city - its museums, art, architecture and other cultural expressions a reason for a visit.
“In my day, there didn’t seem to be that many organized undergraduate study programs, and I came to the UK on my own, traveling by ship from Montreal to Liverpool, England and then by train north to Glasgow. I still remember my first morning in Scotland - looking out the hotel window at young children on their way to school dressed in uniforms. School students in Glasgow today still wear uniforms - both boys and girls sporting neck ties!” As any visitor studying away from home can attest, there are always adjustments to make, local customs to decode. Mielke laughs as he recalls his first Scottish haircut of this most recent trip (a “disaster”). As he says, “with luck, the bungled social exchanges and awkward self-consciousness give way to a confident feeling that one is just another citizen dealing with the duties and challenges of the day.”
And what of his study project? Here Mielke hesitates. “It had been so long since anyone had asked me a direct question about my ‘research’ that I wasn’t sure how to describe it.” And yet graduate students and faculty in the area of theology and religious studies, which is Mielke’s “departmental” home for the year, seemed genuinely curious to know what he intended to do with his time while he was in Scotland. “I think sometimes our teaching responsibilities loom so large that we lose touch with what it was that got us excited about learning - and teaching - in the first place,” he said. Mielke feels particularly fortunate that Glasgow’s Professor of Divinity, George Pattison, a well known scholar of modern religious and philosophical thought, agreed to sponsor his study trip to the university. “I can’t believe my good fortune in being able to meet regularly with Professor Pattison.”
“In Glasgow as a 20-year-old, I encountered Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical novel, Nausea, for the first time. Here were bleak descriptions of the total gratuitousness and meaninglessness of life that were poignant and disturbing - but also exhilarating - to me as a young adult. Sartre had described the philosophy of existentialism in 1945 as the attempt to draw all the consequences from a position of consistent atheism.’ I have always found the challenge of existentialism to religious belief to be a serious and particularly stubborn one. These many years later I find myself, now quite long in the tooth, returning to Scotland, where my interest in this provocative philosophy began, excited to engage anew its perpetually unsettling view of human existence.”