Mission and Values > Programs > Vincentian Mission Institute > Current VMI Cohort > Jamie Carr

Jamie Carr

I am an associate professor of English and the director of the liberal arts program at NU. I primarily teach courses in literary theory and modernist and contemporary literatures as well as our general education foundation course for all students, introduction to literature.

I have published on the Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood, including a version of my dissertation, Queer Times: Christopher Isherwood’s Modernity (Routledge, 2006) and am currently working on an invited talk on “The ‘Art’ of Living: Writing as Transformative Spiritual Practice in Isherwood’s My Guru and His Disciple (1980).” My interest in the effects of writing and of reading also inspired my recent article on the proliferation of empirical studies of immersive fiction reading and empathy, in which I point to the potential limits of scientific study for apprehending the full experience of immersion in a text (or ‘getting lost in a book’).
My prior service commitments include Academic Senate and the Outcomes Assessment committee; currently, I serve on the University Planning Council. I have been advisor to the English honor society and now to our literary and art journal, The Aquila. Since arriving at NU eight years ago, I have volunteered at the Heart, Love and Soul Soup Kitchen of Niagara Falls.

Why Niagara? Why VMI?

When I walked into my morning class last week, a student asked me: “Do you believe in divine intervention?” She was preparing for study abroad in London, and just before submitting the paperwork, she noticed for the first time that a university in Galway that her grandfather attended – also by chance – after the Second World War, was on our exchange list. In an instant all of her plans changed. This week, a colleague in Religious Studies came into my office with a similar story – his plans for sabbatical have changed due to certain ‘signs’ that aligned themselves in ways he couldn’t ignore. We discussed Augustine (I happen to be teaching Confessions for the first time this semester in my senior seminar on autobiography), and the questions of coincidence or “calling” that text raises. I begin with these experiences because they frame one way I might tell my story of “why Niagara?” Trained in postmodern theories, I find it a challenging question to answer. Like anyone’s, my story – and the meaning I ascribe to it – has evolved over the years and could be narrated in a variety of ways depending on point of view and time.
Niagara’s core focus on the liberal arts and a broad-based general education, along with its Vincentian mission, is grounded in a belief that knowledge can transform lives. These values connect with my own belief that literature and literary theory can change hearts and minds, can give voice to the oppressed, can evoke empathy, can move us in untold ways. Over the years, I have sought to engage students, particularly in the introduction to literature course, to find their own pathways into literature, whether affectively or critically, to reflect on their own experiences and possibly to rethink the world around them. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling the strain of the devaluation of literary study in mainstream culture and have been questioning whether and how to continue doing what I do. At a moment when such reflection might have taken me down another path, I received an article from Father Maher that happened to be about vocation. Written by a seminary student-turned psychology major-turned English professor, it tells the story of a journey toward a calling, a journey with which I can certainly identify (save for the seminary).
And so I find myself, these days, trying out new ways to inspire students – having them listen to and tell stories of others that may not otherwise get heard and exploring the relation between writing and transformation – practices that can translate into real world experience and into their personal lives. My hope is that the VMI will help me to integrate more wholly the Vincentian mission with my approaches to education both within and outside the classroom.