Meet Spencer Dew

Spencer Dew, lecturer of philosophy and religious studies. Dew is teaching three classes this semester.

John Lonsdale

Spencer Dew is not really one for interviews; not about him at least.

Jerusalem bombings, 9/11, religion, books about inspired-by-pornography novelists, Chicago police officers, Kentucky and 34-years-old; a person could stop reading there.

Dew‘s office door was ajar and partially revealed the small space in the basement of Catt Hall that harbors the visiting lecturer.

A knock on the door and a “come in” rebuttal later, Dew, lecturer in philosophy and religious studies, waited to begin sorting through why he of all people should be interviewed.

And then he started his story.

“One never has a sense of how one’s words are going to be cut and pasted and used,” Dew said.

Hailing from Owensboro, Ky. — the third largest city in the state — Dew had naïve views of religion.

He knew he wanted to study religion in college because he was from a small town with very little exposure to the world and college was the best way to get that exposure.

Dew graduated from the College of Wooster in 1997 and spent a year studying religious practices in India.

In the summer of 2002, Dew attended The Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he studied modern Hebrew in order to look at rabbinic texts.

The first summer he spent in Jerusalem almost changed everything for him.

Standing outside on the patio adjacent to Frank Sinatra Cafeteria on the university’s campus, Dew, along with 85 others, was injured by a Hamas remote-control, shrapnel-filled backpack bomb planted in the cafeteria.

The bomb was aimed at Americans, and killed nine people, and the glass wall that separated the cafeteria from the outside blew out like “glass sand” onto Dew.

“It was an incredible force,” Dew said. “I had never been in a bomb before. Weeks after, for instance, I would pick shards of glass out of my backpack that were corkscrew-shaped.”

Dew said he was “railroaded” into speaking out to the media about the event because he was one of the “non-mutilated and English-speaking” Americans; an interview he never hoped to do.

“[There were] plenty of good-intentioned people standing around the scene,” Dew said. “The media also has their own agenda. That’s rough and that’s disturbing and you have to sell some sort of coverage over this event … to do that in a responsible way is tricky.”

The next summer he went back to the university to study biblical Hebrew.

Later on, he went to graduate school at The University of Chicago Divinity School, where he did work with feminist theory that later descended into introductions of debates about pornography and censorship. There, he encountered and started a doctoral project on Kathy Acker. She is an important American writer who hasn’t been given the serious reading she deserves, Dew said.

Before coming to Iowa State for the 2010 fall semester, Dew taught religious and philosophy studies at Saint Xavier University and Loyola University Chicago.

For the last three years Dew has been teaching religious studies through the Chicago Police Department and Saint Xavier and plans on going back this summer.

“I think it’s fascinating to work with [the Chicago Police Department] because these are folks who have very different experiences than I do as an academic,” Dew said. “And coming in the classroom and working an eight-hour shift; the things they have seen … [it] is an education for me.”

Dew authored the critically acclaimed “Songs of Insurgency” and “Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres” in 2008, and is coming out with “Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker” some time in 2011.

“Songs of Insurgency” is a collection of short stories with disturbing themes that take place in a post-9/11 world.

“[The book] deals with anxieties and alienation that I thought were pretty common leading up to the second Bush election,” Dew said.

Although Dew is an established author, the actual academic work is what’s important to him; he thinks it’s socially important to reach out to people.

“I think the study of religion provides a forum or a practice for a kind of empathy that I think is necessary for society so you can realize the humanity of someone who in many ways is quite unlike you and to be kosher with their existence opposed to going to war with them,” Dew said.

Dew is impressed by Iowa State and said it’s a good place to teach.

The students are enthusiastic and come well-equipped from the high schools they are coming from, he said.

“I liked him a lot as a teacher,” said Collin Baumhover, junior in supply chain management and a former student of Dew’s. “Religion’s kind of boring sometimes, but he was really enthusiastic about it.”

Bailey Stoneking, sophomore in pre-business, recommends Dew’s classes to all students.

“I loved how he knew all of [our] names because it made the atmosphere of the classroom more friendly,” Stoneking said. “After class I was always wanting to learn more. I even looked further into professor Dew’s outside writing and read some of his work. I highly enjoyed his class and would recommend anybody to take his courses.”

Although Dew has taught at the college level for several years, he said the academic market is the worst it has ever been in decades; he is optimistic about staying at Iowa State to continue teaching and get students to think about religion and their surroundings.

“I think some college students have never really thought about their religion,” Dew said. “They’ve thought about their own or lack of commitments and not thought about it as a social phenomenon; something that has real political effect or clear logic and seeing that can be really useful.”

Ten minutes before 11 a.m., Dew prepared for his next class and momentarily glanced at his computer screen’s clock before a few final words.

“I’d like people to take my classes and be inspired, if not by the specific interests … [I] hope they’re interested that I’m so excited about it. I’m in a basement … I love it here, and I’d love to stay.”