Letter: In memory of Professor Peter Euben

When Peter Euben recently died, Duke lost one of its finest professors. When I took the first incarnation of his now-well-known "Living an Ethical Life" class during spring semester 2007, I expected conflict. The idea for the class was almost absurd: put a bunch of bright Duke kids from vastly different backgrounds holding vastly different convictions into a room together and make them read everything from Socrates to Nietzsche to the Book of Job. Then pull the pin out of the grenade and toss it into the center of the room with a question like "What does goodness look like in a world without God?" 

In the hands of a lesser teacher, the class would have been a violent failure. Instead, it was probably the most formative class I took as an undergraduate. Every student's perspective was heard and honored, but no one's perspective was spared from his rigorous analytical questioning. He would often let student disagreements simmer until the boiling point, when he would step in, dial the heat down, and sift out the strong arguments from the weak. My own arguments landed on both sides of his judgment, but even when he tried to correct me, I always felt like I was learning something from someone who cared about me and my growth.

Over a decade later, I am now in the latter stages of doctoral work and am working to build a career like his. During the dark and lonely days, memories of professors like him keep me (and many of my colleagues) moving forward. Duke can never "replace" him, of course, but we would do well to continue his legacy of passionate and rigorous teaching about the ethical issues that matter most.

Nathan Jones, Trinity '09 and M.Div. '12, is a fifth-year Th.D. student at the Duke Divinity School.


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