Stephen Lewis, who I believe is now in his early 50's, was Chair of the English Department at the Franciscan University of Steubenville for many years. He was recently removed from that position by the University (though he remains as a tenured faculty member) after a controversy erupted over his assignment of an arguably pornographic and certainly blasphemous French novel to five students in a graduate seminar. Sources have indicated that this was not the first such case with Lewis. In addition, while many have vouched for Lewis as being a faithful Catholic, Church Militant reported that Lewis indicated he would refuse to take the Oath of Fidelity to Catholic teachings that Steubenville may now require for all faculty.
My purpose in this short post is not to question Stephen Lewis' standing as a Catholic, nor even to question his suitability for teaching at Steubenville. Rather I wish to ask why he was ever given tenure, let alone made Chair, of the Steubenville English Department.
According to his Steubenville biography page, Lewis has only one quasi-obscure publication to his name in the field or on the topic of English literature (literature written by Americans, British or others in the language of English). It was published almost twenty years ago:
“Love and Politics in Wyndham Lewis’s Snooty Baronet.” Modern Language Quarterly 64:1 (December 2000).
That's it - literally only one publication.
Lewis does have an arguably solid list of other publications, but all save the above are either analyses or translations of writings in French.
And few of them involve French literature.
Rather, most are on French philosophy.
If phenomenology even counts as philosophy.
Okay, ignore the poke against phenomenology, though I am quite serious about the poke. But what is Lewis doing in the English Department?
Here is the full list of his publications:
- “A Fitting Receptacle: Paul Claudel on Sensations of God,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 17:4 (Fall 2014), 65-86.
- “Contestation and Epektasis in the ‘Discussion on Sin’.” Analecta Hermeneutica 4 (2012).
- “Introduction: The Phenomenological Concept of Givenness and the ‘Myth of the Given’” in Jean-Luc Marion, The Reason of the Gift. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2011. 1-17.
- “A Law Without Flesh: Reading Erotic Phenomena in Maurice Blanchot’s Le Très-Haut” in Kevin J. Hart, ed. Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy and Literature in the Narratives of Maurice Blanchot. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. 119-155.
- “The Lover’s Capacity in Jean-Luc Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon.” Quaestiones Disputatae, 1:1 (Fall 2010), 223-241.
- “Love and Politics in Wyndham Lewis’s Snooty Baronet.” Modern Language Quarterly 64:1 (December 2000).
- Jean-Luc Marion, Negative Certainties. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.
- Claude Romano, Event and Time. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.
- Jean-Luc Marion, The Reason of the Gift. Introduction and translation by Stephen E. Lewis. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.
- Jean-Luc Marion, The Erotic Phenomenon. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.
- Jean-Louis Chrétien, Hand to Hand: Listening to the Work of Art. Introduction and translation by Stephen E. Lewis. New York: Fordham University Press, 2003.
- Jean-Luc Marion, Prolegomena to Charity. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002.
Blanchot, a fallen-away Christian, has been described as a philosopher and literary theorist, "a strong influence (according to Wikipedia) on post-structuralist philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida."
And Claudel was a playwright, among other things.
In fairness, he was very Catholic.
But Romano, Chrétien and Marion are generally thought of as philosophers. Lewis' professional reputation seems to be largely based on his Marion work. And Marion was at the University of Chicago for a number of years where Lewis obtained his PhD.
Where else could Steubenville have put Stephen Lewis?
They could have put him in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (there is one professor there with a superficially similar list of publications) or the Philosophy Department (obviously) or, arguably, even the Theology Department, given that Jean-Luc Marion has sometimes also been called a theologian.
But somehow he ended up in the English Department where he would eventually attain a minor infamy in Catholic circles for assigning a dirty novel (a French novel, of course) to seminar students.
Whatever anyone else might say, an academic at a good university has only a limited amount of time to do work in his field, especially if he has other duties as, say, a department head. But speaking now of Lewis, if he was doing the great bulk of his professional work in French phenomenology, where, to speak bluntly, was his time for, well, English?
What is Stephen Lewis doing in the Steubenville English Department?