Donald Rogan is a Professor of Religion and has been at Kenyon since the department was created. He focuses on Biblical study, American religion and the philosophy of religion. Recently he was elected by the Senior class as this years Baccalaureate speaker; he will be retiring at the end of the year. He and his wife also operate the Woodside Bed and Breakfast right here in Gambier.
TKO: So youre almost done.
Rogan: Ive got two more weeks of classes in my life. I am a little ambivalent about it.
TKO: How long exactly have you been here?
Rogan: Since 1965, so that makes it what....34 years, but some people have been here longer than that. Now I get to walk at the front of the line and to sit on the front row at commencement. Phil Church and I used to share wisecracks at commencement all the time and express wonder at certain people being able to graduate. All of the faculty confesses to doing that, but Phil Church was particularly acerbic.
TKO: Do you miss the Kenyon from 65?
Rogan: No, no in fact I am willing to say this quite publicly, at Phil Churchs memorial there were a lot of people who came back from earlier times. In one sense Kenyon from the seventies was reconvened and I was haunted all day by the fact Kenyon had changed drastically. I much prefer the Kenyon of today. For one thing Kenyon in the seventies was still in the vestiges of its all male identity and it was slow in becoming coeducational. The slowness was in getting the male part of the community to accept it and respond to it properly. The college is a much healthier place now. I told my wife and various other people that I was haunted by this feeling all day. I was just a little uncomfortable being reminded of what Kenyon felt like in those days. One of the things was that Kenyon was a hell of a lot snootier back then than it is now. Particularly with people thinking that they were the best thing that ever came down the pike just because they were at Kenyon, or in spite of the fact that they were at Kenyon Im really a lot better than this kind of thing. I dont hear it much anymore. I dont think it is as prominent now. Essentially the maleness was the main thing. Although it was allegedly co-ed from 69 on it took about a decade to develop. In the first class of women we lost fifty percent. There was a fiction that it was a separate college for one thing. It is just a lot healthier here now than it used be. The problems are a lot more normal problems.
TKO: Do you think that Kenyon has lost anything? Does it still have the potential for Kenyon folklore like stories about John Crowe Ransom playing croquet on his front lawn?
Rogan: Where have all the giants gone? I heard an alum once say that Ransom was the most boring professor he ever had. There are two sides to every story. I hear things about myself that have escalated since they happened. A lot of that is manufactured reputation, its not necessarily all true. One thing: your seminar meets at my house; that used to be standard, the norm, but it is also the case that people were invited to faculty houses maybe three times during their whole four years here, but nostalgically people think that is what Kenyon was all about, you were in and out of professors houses all the time. Nostalgia magnifies the stories. Seminars dont meet at our homes as regularly as they used to. It is kind of a pain in the neck, but I like it better. I went for a long time without doing it, but it is a lot more enjoyable.
TKO: I am taking Readings of Job and Jews in Literature and part of what makes them so interesting is the combination of studying both literature and religion in the same setting. Do you think that the school needs to do more with cross departmental classes?
Rogan: Oh yeah. The Religion department has been interested in interdepartmental stuff for a long time. IPHS was started by a religion professor and I have done a lot of team teaching over the years. It is almost harder than working by yourself a lot of the time, even though you are not up on stage all the time you have to spend a lot of time talking about the course with your colleague, but it is invigorating. In terms of literature I dont think the English department has a corner on literature partly because there is a lot of literature besides English. On the other hand here I am teaching King Lear and The Trial to people who have never read them before, and there is something really funny going on in education when you have mostly Seniors in the course and some of them have never read either of those works before. So I feel free to include a lot of the classics of the canon, and this keeps me from expanding the course in a different direction, by finding literature of affliction in Chinua Achebe, or people like that, who I have never had time for while I am teaching Western literature. I think in the department we have been remarkably involved in bringing in literature that is not traditionally thought of as religious.
TKO: Do you think the Kenyon Religion department is unique?
Rogan: Yes, we are. Although they created the job description for my replacement under the title of Religions of the Americas, which is a brilliant title, but it turns out there are several job descriptions around the country exactly like that one this year. All of a sudden everyone is thinking the same way. Often Kenyon thinks it is doing something unique and then we find out everyone is doing the same thing. But this department is different from most others in being genuinely diverse.
TKO: Youre not going with the rest of the department to Orlando to find your replacement?
Rogan: I think its kind of interesting that they have to go to Disney World to look for my replacement. Im not staying out of the search, but I am going to get involved at a later stage. They dont really need me at this stage.
TKO: Are you going to stay in Gambier running the Woodside after you retire?
Rogan: Oh yeah. Gambier is a great place to retire. It was a great place to raise kids when I first came here. Great place on the whole I guess. I didnt mean to stay, I just thought of it as a job for five years or something like that.
TKO: Youre never leaving, are you...never really retiring?
Rogan: No one ever does really.
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