From anthropology to English: Union’s new English chair answers God’s call to serve
JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 16, 2002 – As a third generation preacher’s son, Dr. Gene Fant has been involved with books, reading, and literature his entire life. As a native of Mississippi, the art of story telling is as much a part of his culture as the red clay cotton fields and the Delta. Even so, the road to becoming Union’s new English chair has been a long and varied one, spanning an undergraduate degree in anthropology to a master of divinity at seminary to a doctorate in Renaissance English literature.
As a child he wanted to be an archeologist.
“I have this little booklet from first or second grade, with it all written out,” Fant explains. “I never deviated from that goal.”
Accordingly, he completed his degree in anthropology with a minor in biology—a slightly unusual background for an English professor, but one which Fant declares is an excellent combination.
“English is actually a logical transition, since anthropology is the study of human culture and history, while English is the study of the written expression of shared human experience,” says Fant. “Instead of studying bones or culture, I study text.”
Even before he finished college, Fant began to feel that God wanted him to go into the ministry. Feeling a definite call to serve, he assumed it would be in the field of ministry, so following graduation he headed to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain a master of divinity degree. During the course of this experience, the direction of where he needed to serve God slowly evolved into a new direction.
“I just really wasn’t sure what I would do, but as time passed I was persuaded that God wanted me to work with young people in a teaching position,” says Fant. Becoming a professor seemed to be the best opportunity to do exactly that.
Obtaining his doctorate in English was actually somewhat of an accident. He was an undeclared major when he discovered most of the courses he wanted to take fulfilled the requirements of an English major.
“English is an excellent discipline to study as a basis,” Fant believes. “Because of its versatility and diversity you can use it to do anything or go anywhere. It was the best choice for me.”
If obtaining a doctorate in English was slightly accidental, joining the team at Union University certainly was. One of Fant’s friends read about the position and thought it sounded like a perfect match. “He called me up and said, ‘You really need to check this out because they are writing your resume,’” recalls Fant. “He was sure I was the ideal candidate.”
Fant did apply for the job and Union University agreed with his friend—he was a match. But it was his first visit to the campus that clinched the final decision for Fant.
“I was on campus five minutes and I knew this was exactly what I wanted,” he says. “Everyone at Union has such a clear sense of mission, with a great positive attitude. The people at this university know exactly where they are going and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Students in Fant’s classes soon learn he is a lively professor who loves both people and teaching. “I like talking about myself,” he jokes as he walks into the room the first day of class. “So be prepared to listen to stories the whole semester.”
They quickly discover he also likes to talk about literature—a lot. William Shakespeare, William Faulkner, and Scott F. Fitzgerald are his favorite authors, but he is enthusiastic about any literature from ancient times to the postmodern era, from Gilgamesh to Joyce Carol Oates. “I have a real passion for discovery and love looking at things in new ways,” Fant admits. “I especially enjoy using a people-oriented approach to learning about both old and new customs.”
That passion for learning appears in one of Fant’s extracurricular hobbies – studying pop culture. A favorite practice is analyzing current trends and drawing parallels to the Christian culture and beliefs. “I find it amazing to discover the connections between the pop world and the Christian world,” he observes. “You don’t realize it until you start looking.”
Fant is also a prolific writer, a practice that helps him “take the stress out of life.” He remains especially interested in Mississippi backgrounds and traditions, writing for several magazines in the Magnolia State.
“The culture I grew up, with its storytelling aspect of life, contains so many traits that are fascinating to explore,” says Fant. A recent article addressed his attempts to retain his Southern and Mississippi dialect and speech patterns, threatened by years of living in other regions of the country. Fant has also recently written a devotion book for college students, which will be published soon.
Dr. Fant, along with his wife Lisa who is teaching Victorian literature courses at Union, plan to live in Jackson. The couple has a set of four-year-old twins, a son and daughter.
“We look forward to raising our family in Jackson,” says Fant. “But we are especially excited about being part of the Union University family and serving God with the wonderful team here.”
By Mariann Martin, Class of 2005