Getting you behind the blackboard and into the personal office spaces of some of the most interesting professors on campus. Know of some good characters? We’d love to meet ’em, get to know ’em, explore their history. Send suggestions with mini-bios (name, classes, why is (s)he so interesting?, etc.) over to email@example.com. Include “office space professor” in the subject.
Photos by Griffin Horvath.
American Religious History Professor, David Hackett, grew up with questions of meaning and purpose. The 1960s countercultural movement popularized the quest for religious explanations. Hackett began looking past American society’s answers and hasn’t stopped since.
Hackett came to the University of Florida in 1987. When he started teaching American religious history, courses rarely seated more than 30 – a far cry from today’s hundred-plus lecture halls.
“I’m really aware of the fact that underneath everything else, I’m helping people move from 18 to 21,” Hackett said. “I’m helping them move into the first intonations of adulthood, of purpose, of finding meaning in life and in what they want to do.”
His office is defined by a bookshelf. The room sits on a corner in Anderson Hall. Windows dominate the other walls, granting the room sunlight and a warm glow. Hackett relates to the college experience sentimentally; as he says, “The more desperate issue is becoming a human being.”
Instructing “What is the Good Life?” a required class for incoming freshmen as of 2012, has been particularly rewarding. He recognizes that his students are coming immediately out of high school and into college.
“It’s a major period of life adjustment,” Hackett said.
Hackett stresses the greater meaning in the course, encouraging his students to embrace it in a more holistic sense.
“It’s a kaleidoscopic, wonderfully chaotic, thrilling and terrifying time period,” Hackett said. “It’s a great time to be teaching them.”
“Religion and American Culture” by David Hackett
“I was hired to teach American Religious History,” Hackett said. “When I first started teaching, almost all classes were small classes. I started to use a textbook. I had a course pack at the time. The textbook had additional articles, which were new directionals in the field. I started creating a course pack, which turned into this textbook. This has become quite popular; it’s used in quite a lot of undergraduate courses throughout the country. It’s a collection of essays in American religious history.”
“Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke
Hackett smiled as he pulled the book from the shelf. “Underneath everything else, the student, the young person, the adolescent who’s come away from home on this great adventure of college is asking questions of himself,” Hackett said. “Who am I? What am I going to become?” Hackett added. “We too frequently seize on answers to these questions before we’ve allowed them to percolate long enough so we can find the real answers.”
Rilke, the author, was a poet and a writer in Germany. A young man would send Rilke letters asking for advice; he wanted to become a poet.
Hackett quoted from the book, “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms. Like books written in a very foreign tongue.”
“Ambiguity is part of the game,” Hackett said. “What you have to learn is that you’ve got to live the questions. This is a single most important piece of advice; that there is ambiguity, that there’s ‘lostness,’ and that’s part of the game.”
“New and Selected Poems” by Mary Oliver
“Tell me; what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Hackett recited, stressing the final words of his favorite poem by Oliver, “The Summer Day.” It’s a point that he takes directly.
“We’re all about doing; we’re not about being.” Hackett said. “We have to be. We have to sit. We have to be lost. We need to wander around the fields,” Hackett laughed.
“That’s a very fruity thing to do, to wander the fields and look at grasshoppers. This person’s going to get anywhere. No, this person gets everywhere. The point is, what are you going to do?”
Hackett advises to listen and pay attention to all sorts of little things. “Just watch things. It’s going to get colder soon. Watch how people’s clothes change. Just watch things. It’s not what you see right here, it’s what’s out in the peripheral vision. Stay focused, stay alert.”