Posted: February 26, 2009
For almost 30 years, Jane Crosthwaite has been one of Mount Holyoke’s most beloved professors. Generations of students have come to cherish her humor and her caring, her attention to their academic achievements and her interest in their personal well-being. She has introduced them to the founding mothers of American religious history, to Shiva and Parvati, to the Buddha and the great figures and themes of world religions, as well as the implications of the latest State of the Union address. She is equally at home with Kierkegaard and Dorothy Day, with Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror. She insists that her students learn to read texts carefully and write with clarity. She guides them into research with primary documents of Shaker history, her own special domain, and rewards them with a personally escorted tour of Hancock Village and her stories of Shaker elders past and present.
Jane is a mistress of unraveling the complexities of religious doctrine and history, of feminist theology, and the ethical dimensions of public policy. In her classroom, students will be chuckling one minute at her knack for finding humor in the most unexpected places, then abruptly caught up the next with Jane’s insistent “Whys,”--or, rather, “Whaaaays”--forcing them to probe deeper and deeper into the most basic questions of the human condition. As with her Shakers, “simple gifts” turn out to be the most profound. The frequent “I love you Jane” (who wouldn’t), “Jane was amazing,” and “very funny” aside, her students speak of dramatic shifts in their understanding of the world and their place in it. “I have been pushed out of my comfort area; I have been invited to consider a language and perspectives I could otherwise reject.” Or, “class often left me feeling depressed--but this is not a bad thing--other times inspired.”
Jane Crosthwaite joined the Mount Holyoke faculty in 1979. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University, and a B.A. from Wake Forest University from which she has received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1996. She is also a member of the Hancock Shaker Village Board of Overseers and cochair of the Wake Forest University Board of Visitors. Jane’s book with Christian Goodwillie, Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal, will be out this spring from the University of Massachusetts Press. Her biographical entries for R. Mildred Barker and Hannah Cohoon are included in the American National Biography project (Oxford University Press), and her reviews and articles are frequently published in scholarly journals. And later this term, Jane will be one of the main speakers for the Seventh Annual Phyllis Trible Lectures to be held at Wake Forest University. The topic? "Scandalous Women and Religious Traditions." No further comment seems necessary.