Dr. Wilson and Flannery O’Connor

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Photo by Hannah Green

Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson is the University of Dallas Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence for Humanities and Classical Education. She recently gave a talk on her book “The Scandal of Holiness” to current UD students and faculty,  revealing her thoughts about UD’s place in the modern world. 

In an interview, Wilson explained that her talk centered around “the stories that should form our imaginations… and show us how to imitate Jesus Christ in the world.” 

She pointed out that the stories that permeate our current society do not teach us to value suffering or how to die well. Right now, we are taught by our culture to “avoid death, make sure everything is pleasurable, and stay away from suffering.” 

Wilson juxtaposed the values taught by our current culture with traditional Catholic values, saying that our culture encourages us to control our environment via technology to avoid suffering while the Catholic tradition teaches us to slow down and contemplate.

“Great action to overcome injustice comes from knowing the Lord and knowing his will that you get from that contemplation,” she said. Essentially, holiness is an “otherworldly scandal” that should be foreign to everybody else. Dr. Wilson posited that this sense of otherness is how we know we are following Jesus Christ. 

In another interview, Wilson defined her job as the Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence as essentially a “brand ambassador” for the University of Dallas as well as one who teaches and speaks to current students. 

As an active academic, Wilson said, “If you like the work I’m doing [in writing and on podcasts], where should you go to learn more? The University of Dallas.” 

She represents UD’s mission in her work, which allows her to simultaneously pursue her interests and promote the beauty of a UD education. Dr. Louise Cowan was Wilson’s professor when she attended UD in the Master’s program, and Dr. Wilson said, “It’s an honor to have a chair [at the University of Dallas] that’s named after [Louise Cowan] and to…carry the mantle for her.” 

Currently, Wilson teaches two classes remotely (“Ancient Epics” and “A Course on Inklings”) and agreed to come and speak to current students on campus. She recently gave a talk on her book “The Scandalous Holy” to current UD students and faculty. 

An impressive academic, Wilson has four books in progress on varying topics including vocations, the saints, the spiritual life, and the unfinished works of Flannery O’Connor. Her particular specialties include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Dante, and Flannery O’Connor. 

In an interview, Wilson went further into her work on Flannery O’Connor, as she has a book in the final stages of publishing named “Why Do the Heathen Rage?: An Unfinished Novel by Flannery O’Connor. 

Wilson said, “What I did was pull the sentences…of 378 pages of fragments and try to piece together what was left behind.” She and her publisher tried a few versions of the book before settling on the final product. They worked with a more scholarly version of the book and Wilson even “ghost-wrote” a version, connecting O’Connor’s fragments together into a cohesive whole. 

Ultimately, Wilson said that she will publish the fragments of Flannery O’Connor’s work as they are, and then hopefully go on to publish a second book. “It will include a lot of the research…what I call ‘the story of the unfinished novel’. Where did it come from? Where was she going? It’ll be all me.” With any luck, we’ll get to see her interpretation of O’Connor’s fragments in her potential second book. 

Wilson sees UD as a special exception in a general loss of good education. “Education used to be teaching people how to love things that are worthy of love,” she said. Now, she claims, education is all about winning. 

Education should be about something much more meaningful, “the beauty in the world around us, the friendships, the fellowships,” She lauded UD’s commitment to real education, saying, “There’s not a lot of universities that are doing the good work anymore.” UD is certainly privileged to have a professor of such high caliber on staff.

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