Dr. Chad Loewen-Schmidt Searches for Meaning
March 4, 2013
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Dr. Chad Loewen-Schmidt claims to be a “meaning addict,” and his addiction to the search for meaning has led him all around the world.
Loewen-Schmidt is originally from Canada. He has taught around the world, including Sweden, Lithuania, Malaysia, India, Kenya and the Maldives. Loewen-Schmidt has a doctorate in comparative literature and is now an assistant professor of English at Shepherd University.
A doctorate and professorship were not always what Loewen-Schmidt had envisioned. Growing up in Abbotsford, Canada, he was part of a strong Mennonite community.
Loewen-Schmidt’s first accomplishments were through his athleticism. He focused on basketball but also played soccer, road hockey, and rugby, among others. Loewen-Schmidt earned the Athlete of the Year award when he was only a sophomore. However, he was not in attendance for the ceremony. After the banquet, his friends came out of the school to find him playing tetherball, unaware that he had been awarded.
Attendance used to be an issue for Loewen-Schmidt. The same year he won Athlete of the Year, he failed physical education due to 41 unexcused absences.
He went on to play collegiate basketball for two years, but both seasons were cut short for him. During his freshman year, he failed too many classes due to low attendance and lost his scholarship. Then, after earning back his scholarship for his sophomore year, he was hit by a truck, and his season was ended again.
Since he could not play basketball, Loewen-Schmidt had to get a job. With his growing interest in marine biology at the time, he filled a position in a local pet store.
Loewen-Schmidt converted to Christianity while in high school in Vancouver. His conversion happened in one single night at a Bible study he attended, and he was changed.
Loewen-Schmidt said, “My conversion was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
For his senior year of high school, when he wanted to attend a private Christian school too far away from his parents to live at home, he moved into his basketball coach’s basement. There his faith grew, and he cultivated his athleticism.
“I worked hard at the things I liked,” says Loewen-Schmidt.
Loewen-Schmidt still had his faith after high school graduation and two seasons of college basketball. He was fully invested in his faith and in its meaning. His pursuit of its meanings began his globetrotting. Raised in a religious community and now fully committed to his faith, he even preached in the streets.
He moved around while studying theology in Winnipeg, Canada and Sweden. He was even in Sweden when the Berlin Wall came down. While moving and studying theology, however, his faith was challenged.
Loewen-Schmidt said, “My doubts were craving attention.”
Theology gave him ontological anxieties. His de-conversion happened one night, similarly to his conversion. The time after was more difficult, though. He was left exhausted and in a shadow.
“I needed to be in a place where it was okay to just think,” said Loewen-Schmidt.
Loewen-Schmidt realized the English field was just the place he needed to be because of one professor.
“I always felt like a thinker,” said Loewen-Schmidt, but in this English class he felt properly recognized.
He discovered a new, empowering and methodical relationship to be had with literature. Reading closely and penetrating the surface of ideas provided an unexpected rush. He found the place where it “was okay to just think” thanks to one English course and one English professor.
Loewen-Schmidt met his wife in Lithuania in 1996 when they were both teaching English. She had to move back to California, and Loewen-Schmidt had two options: either get married and move back with her or forget about her. He chose her and moved to the U.S., becoming a legal alien for the next seven years.
During the first three years, he worked on his undergraduate in English literature, earning it in 1999, summa cum laude, from California State University. He worked some other jobs before becoming a professor, though. He cooked pizza and steaks and was even a finish carpenter for a while. He then earned his master’s degree and later his doctorate, both in comparative literature, from Rutgers University.
Loewen-Schmidt designs his courses so his students have to think. For him, the classroom does not have to be a place you always want to be. He believes suffering is the only legitimate vehicle of learning.
Loewen-Schmidt said, “If you don’t sit with the confusion, you’ll leave blind spots. I did not give up on my confusion. I kind of have a pride.”
He tries to create an atmosphere in his classrooms where his students are required to embrace the confusion.
Alex Hale, a sophomore English major, has taken Loewen-Schmidt’s Introduction to Literary Study course. He said that initially he found Loewen-Schmidt “easily approachable.”
Hale said, “At times, he can get off topic very easily, but there’s more to him than that. Most of the time, when we get off topic, it’s to serve a larger purpose. He’s one of those professors that really wants his students to think about what they’re doing and why. He’s told us multiple times in class that he wants us to lead our class, take the material where we want to and talk about what we don’t understand.”
The atmosphere that Loewen-Schmidt creates forces alternate ways of understanding the world and provides students with opportunities to master complexity by not being daunted by it. Loewen-Schmidt concludes that it makes it exciting.
Now, with a doctorate, his wife and their twin daughters, Sadie and Sienna, Loewen-Schmidt’s globetrotting has slowed down.
He said with a smile, “My daughters are a trip, so I don’t need to travel.”