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Well-Known Theologian Taps Local Prof for New Book

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Dr. Robert Dean, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary. Providence

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas has carved out a place for himself in the academic world as a respected author, theologian, ethicist, and public intellectual.

What is a public intellectual, you may ask? It’s perhaps a tricky term to define, but no doubt Hauerwas’s significant catalogue of well-regarded books, years of teaching at prestigious universities on two continents, and reputation as a gifted lecturer contribute to his notoriety. His work is widely discussed in his core fields of religion and ethics, of course, although his name also comes up in other fields—for example, political philosophy, sociology, history, and literary theory. He even appeared once on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Recently, Hauerwas reached out to Dr. Robert Dean, who joined the faculty of Providence Theological Seminary as Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics this past August, tapping him to help assemble a new collection of his sermons and essays. Hauerwas had become familiar with Dean following the publication of Dean’s first book in 2016, For the Life of the World.

“I am extremely grateful for how Rob sees the connections between my sermons and the essays,” Hauerwas says. “[Dean is] just distant enough from me for that distance to be fruitful.”

The fruit of their cooperation, Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections, was published in early November. 

“[It was a] great privilege to work with one of the leading theologians of a generation,” Dean says. “It’s perhaps something like a young hockey player who gets called up to the NHL and finds himself skating on a line with Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby.” 

Dean describes the excitement of gaining the opportunity to work alongside someone like Hauerwas, who strongly impacted his own theological formation. He says that the editing and writing process allowed him a more intimate glimpse of Hauerwas, the man.

“Behind the sometimes fiery and confrontational public persona, there is an exceedingly gracious and unfailingly kind and gentle man,” Dean says.

The new book is divided into four sections: Matters Theological, University Matters, Lives Matter, and the Matter of Preaching. 

“The first three parts,” says Dean, “include essays and addresses by Hauerwas that seek to understand the work of theology, the life of the university, and the lives that we are called to lead, all in the light of Jesus Christ. The fourth part of the book features sermons that Hauerwas preached throughout North America, alongside a couple of my own sermons.” 

Hauerwas, who turned 78 in July, underlines the importance of having a younger scholar such as Dean dig into his material. 

“I should think this book’s importance, and I do not want to oversell it, hopefully involves how it spans generations,” Hauerwas says. “Dean’s contributions are central because he can make me more coherent for his readers than I am able to do.”

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