Last year, with Dr. Michael Waldstein and Dr. Steven Long leading the charge, AMU Graduate Theology began conducting what is called an “Oberseminar.” “Ober” is a German word meaning “upper.” This “upperseminar” is intended to provide an opportunity for further theological inquiry, beyond the typical courses, as well as foster a real sense of collegiality and fellowship among students and faculty.
Recently, Dr. Waldstein wrote an e-mail that both described his experience and intention with the Oberseminar, as well as encouraging students to persevere in attendance. This letter is given here in part:
I want to tell you about my own experience of the Oberseminar in my student days at Harvard and later as a faculty member at Notre Dame and the International Theological Institute as well as a sabbatical year in Tübingen. At these places, all the faculty in a given department and all their students on track for a PhD come together once a week. At Harvard, it was a seminar for the New Testament Department (renamed History of Religions from Alexander the Great to Constantine); at Notre Dame it was the CJA (Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity); and in Tübingen it was again Biblical Studies.
In all these places, the Oberseminar is scheduled on Wednesday evenings, which is by experience a relatively safe spot on the calendar.
The subject of these meetings varies. There is usually an over-arching topic, but it can be freely interrupted. Students present proposals for the doctoral thesis or summarize ongoing work on an approved proposal. Faculty present work important to them.
Participation in this seminar is, as far as I could tell, obligatory for all faculty in a given field. It is open to faculty in other fields who are interested. There usually were a good number of those present. It is also obligatory for all doctoral students in residence, including those who have completed their course work and are working on their dissertations. When I say “obligatory,” what I mean is that attendance is universal as a matter of course, not as an additional course required of students and assigned to faculty. No grades are given. It is simply an ancient institution, as self-evidently part of academic life as the graduation ceremony.
I experienced the Oberseminar for twenty years: for eight years as a faculty member at Notre Dame, one of which was a sabbatical in Tübingen, and for twelve years at the International Theological Institute in Austria, one of which was a sabbatical at Notre Dame.
As I look back, the interaction between faculty with the involvement of upper level students was a unique learning experience, both for my student years and for my more mature academic life. It is quite different than one professor lecture or leading a seminar with students. What regularly sprang into life in the Oberseminar was a dialogue on the highest level achievable in a particular place. In my academic life as a whole, it was the most rewarding experience in the twenty years in which I was part of it.
[Enjoying the comfortable Florida evening outside at Dr. Waldstein’s home, PhD student Kevin Clarke looks on as Dr. Waldstein explains a point from the text during a recent Oberseminar.]
Here at Ave Maria University, we are blessed by excellent faculty members and excellent doctoral students. The intensification of our life in the Oberseminar would be very much worth the effort. It would make eminent sense to establish the Oberseminar, by and by, step by step in the course of a few years, as a matter of course for all faculty and doctoral students.