The infectious worldview of this year’s outstanding research award recipient, Dr. Joseph Marchal

With an almost old-fashioned finesse— wave-like hand gestures and an uneven baritone voice—Dr. Joseph Marchal, associate professor of religious studies,  introduces his academic scholarship with a simple description: “I live half my life in the first century and the other, in the 21st century.”

This casual comment is a peek into Marchal’s transdisciplinary research approach in biblical studies—the study of Scriptures of Christianity and Judaism. “Here you are thinking about issues of translation and interpretation,” he said. “You are using skills about transferring ideas from one way of thinking to another way of thinking. Right off, there is something interdisciplinary about that.”

His exegesis of the letters of Apostle Paul is to treat them “more like cultural artifacts and less as theological treatise,” which helps to make connections to  popular issues today like gender, slavery, and power dynamics between countries and people. Marchal believes citizens should pay attention to the ways biblical texts influence our modern way of life. This “heavy” influence makes asking critical questions about the interpretation and application of these texts relevant.

This Fall, Marchal marked his 11th year at Ball State. He attributes part of his success to being in a university community like ours. “There hasn’t been an  expectation about one right way to do scholarship,” he said about Ball State’s research and academic praxis. He goes on to talk more about how continued support will empower the many talented individuals in the humanities to contribute more to the University and Muncie community.

“Our mission is to advance knowledge andeducate the next generation of Hoosiers and everyone else who wants to come to Indiana,” he said about Ball State. His penchant for asking questions and reflecting on the past has led him to cross disciplines. In the words of Dr. David Concepción, professor of philosophy at Ball State, “Joseph Marchal is transforming the nature of scholarship in his subdisciplines.”

It is easy to see how this level of output—books (five in the last 10 years with a contract for two more), journal articles (25 of them in the same 10- year period) and speaking engagements—might only allow limited time for other responsibilities. With a busy schedule, Marchal said, “we have to make hard choices to perform at the level we want.”

Teaching and researching are intertwined…Teaching keeps me excited about the topic and research keeps me informed.” —Dr. Joseph Marchal

When he is not writing about Paul’s letters—easily his favorite research focus—he teaches three courses each semester at Ball State. “Teaching and researching are intertwined,” Marchal said. “Teaching keeps me excited about the topic and research keeps me informed.”

When asked about how he helps students navigate the sometimes-troubled waters of religion, he says, “The goal is not getting them to agree with you; the goal is to get them to be more careful thinkers.”

This article was written by Adeboye Olaniyan.