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Oskaloosa priest continues work in Middle East

June 18—A local priest is utilizing the support of a prestigious scholarship to conduct academic work in the Middle East.

Rev. Dr. Terence J. Kleven is the priest of Oskaloosa’s St. James Episcopal Church, professor of religion and philosophy at Central College and a recipient of the US Department of State’s prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, a program that offers research opportunities to undergraduates, grad students and post docs in a variety of fields.

Kleven is currently finishing one of a two year research trip to Amman, Jordan, where he has continued his work in the field of Arabic philosophy. However, he took time away from his studies to speak to The Herald about the often confusing task of understanding humanity and its importance in the world today.

“I think, in some ways, modern natural science is in a bit of a crisis. And because it has such a tremendous influence over everything we do, how we understand ourselves as people, as human beings, how we understand health, how we understand origins and purposes in life — there needs to be a constant reflection on the things that are most important to us as human beings. Questions of justice, and peace, and friendship and love,” Kleven said.

“There need to be studies which are devoted to those areas of life which contribute mostly to our understanding of ourselves as human beings—as rational, reasonable human beings, and especially as whole human beings, not simply as, you know, technicians, or specialists or computer experts.”

Kleven has long been a champion for education in the humanities, applying both his academic work in the fields of religion and philosophy, as well as his experience as a priest, to his work as a professor at Central College. However, he advocates for exposure to issues of spirituality and philosophy not just in an academic setting, but in day to day life as well.

“I would add, in the midst of that, there needs to be a proper place for traditions that represent the importance of spirituality to us, and in particular, the importance of Christianity and Christian teaching to us as a people, as a nation, Kleven advised. “And so I hope to establish a richer account of science, a more complete account of science, which would be more respectful toward or would be more supportive of the importance of Christian teaching and Christian understandings of life, and politics and justice and so on .”

His current scholarship in Jordan is not Kleven’s first experience with the Fulbright program. He previously received a Fulbright to study in Beirut, Lebanon and has also done work in Berlin, Germany. Now in Amman, Jordan, Kleven is making the most of the opportunity to further his studies in Arabic philosophy and Biblical studies.

“I work in Arabic philosophy, and so being in a context where I can use my Arabic and improve my Arabic is good for my research, so that’s a major reason,” Kleven said. “Secondly, to meet people who are interested in politics and religion in the Middle East. This is a good place to be for that.”

The country is a perfect fit in more ways than one for Central College’s resident Old Testament scholar.

“Jordan is part of the Biblical lands that we learn about, so any of the regions that the Israelites went through during the Exodus, as they went from the Sinai Peninsula up into the land, they came through the country of Jordan here.”

One of the highlights of Kleven’s time in Jordan has been to visit locations of Biblical significance with his wife.

“We went up the east side of the Dead Sea, or the Salt Sea. There’s one place in the north that I hadn’t visited the previous time we were here. It’s called Umm Qais, and it’s one of the ten cities of the Decapolis.”

Although he is enjoying his time away and making the most of the academic opportunity, Kleven is still very much aware of what is happening both at home and abroad. As a scholar in the field of political philosophy, he has been watching world events with an eye toward history.

“It’s important to know what happens when tyranny and tyrannical regimes get going — what are the dynamics that allow them to flourish, what could have been done to try to stop them at an earlier stage? When you get to the point of fighting wars with tyrants, you’ve obviously let it go on too long,” Kleven explained. “And so we pay those prices yet again, or the Ukrainians do. We pay it financially, but the Ukrainians pay it with their lives, just to stop a tyrant who has been allowed too much leniency for too many years”

That, he argues, is just one of the reasons why the humanities — the study of the very essence of what it means to be human — remain vitally important to this day.

Channing Rucks can be reached at crucks@oskyherald.com.

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