Faculty Scholarship: Professor Edward Upton

Professor Edward Upton

Scholarly analysis represents an important aspect of the Christ College experience for the entire community. CC students are well represented at Valpo’s annual Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE) and at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), a unique and life-changing experience for future industry and academic thought leaders among the college’s brightest.

As they prepare to share their research, these talented Valpo students hone their writing and argumentative skills with the faculty right here in Mueller Hall.

Associate Professor of Humanities Edward Upton is among several CC faculty members to publish books or articles in 2023. Desire and the Ascetic Ideal: Buddhism and Hinduism in the Works of T.S. Eliot hit the shelves in September, further cementing Professor Upton’s place as a scholar of Eliot’s work and his use of Buddhist and Hindu thought within the lines of modernist poems like The Waste Land.

“The puzzle that I was focused on in the book was how a committed, conservative Christian like Eliot could exhibit such an interest in Buddhism and Hinduism across his career,” he explains. “There are some scholars who have said that the presence of those religious traditions in poems like The Waste Land or even in Four Quartets later on are simply for perspective — and I think that’s wrong.” Using Eliot’s unpublished graduate school notebooks as a guide, Upton argues that his poetry, much like the English language and even the western, Anglican culture in which Eliot is submerged, engages in a dialogue between diverse perspectives and religions in both an artistic and practical sense. “It’s not the case that Eliot was interested in Indian traditions, became a Christian, and then left them behind. It’s that his interest in the Indian traditions influenced the kind of Christianity that he ultimately embraced.” Eliot’s inclination to search for beauty and meaning in diverse sources — even while strengthening his own firmly-held beliefs — feels familiar in the corridors of Mueller Hall. It may even explain why CC students are so drawn to study him during their own personal journeys of discernment. “Eliot’s poetry is often depicted as a poetry of fragments,” says Upton. “What Eliot said at one point in his career is that we all live in multiple worlds, and that it is the task of our consciousness to try to resolve that as we can … [we] read Aristotle, [we] read Virginia Woolf. [We] have these texts and practices that are making claims on [us] and [we] have to acknowledge them and assess their influence.”

Though uniquely dedicated to teaching, research and publication remains an important aspect of faculty life at Valpo — and gifted students from across campus often play a pivotal role in faculty scholarship while writing their own papers.

In April, Professor Upton will travel with Dean Jennifer Prough and a group of CC students to Long Beach for NCUR 2024. Attendees will present research on theses spanning multiple topics and colleges, from questions of identity in ​​Ellison’s Invisible Man, to instances of microplastics in birds’ nests, to the prevalence of high blood pressure among Valpo students and university students in general.

Each time he travels with a group of students, who submit an abstract for approval and then work with faculty to hone their papers and presentations, Upton receives compliments on their preparation and poise, a testament not only to a CC student’s passion for their work but also the time that Valpo faculty put into teaching them the craft of research. “There’s a sense of confidence that they have … because we’ve prepared them for it,” he remarks. “You can see our students thinking on their feet and interacting with their audience in a productive and empowering way.”

“One of the unique joys of being dean of Christ College is seeing the dynamic connection between faculty scholarship and teaching and students’ development as scholars,” added Dean Prough, who has herself traveled with students to NCUR several times in CC’s 20-year history of participation. “Just a skim through the titles presented at NCUR, SOURCE, or the CC Student Scholarship Symposium reveals a diversity of fields, passions, and talents.”

Pricey conference registration and travel arrangements for NCUR could present an expensive barrier to entry for qualified students, but thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends who made gifts to the Christ College Dean’s Fund, the College is able to cover the cost of attendance. On GivingTuesday 2023, generous CC supporters made over $10,000 in gifts that fully-funded five of this year’s participants.

Opportunities like NCUR certainly serve as career preparation; however, they also provide life-changing opportunities to travel, engage with peers and professionals, and to see oneself as a confident and commencement-ready scholar. “As CC grads know first-hand, research is not just for those who want advanced degrees, argues Dean Prough. “Academic research, no matter the field, hones the skills of tackling a project or question, finding relevant sources or data, testing one’s thesis or hypothesis, analyzing what it all might mean, and presenting the results.”

Learn more about Christ College’s dedicated faculty like Professor Upton at valpo.edu/christ-college/faculty. You can also see a list of current course offerings for CC students here.