Wilkinson 228 is more than just a professor’s office.
The bookshelves are stacked high – each shelf supporting the one above it so they won’t collapse under the weight of literature that has been collected over the years. The desk is adorned with small statues and artifacts from past travels. A single electronic picture frame rotates a series of photos of Buddha, elephant carvings, temple columns and towering buildings.
Marvin Meyer, chair of the religion department, director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute and occupant of Wilkinson 228, has brought prestige to Chapman’s campus as a world-renowned expert in Coptic languages, a translator of lost Bible gospels, and one of Chapman students’ favorite professors.
“I’m a child of the cosmos I suppose,” Meyer said. “What I try to do in the classroom is encounter the best and most challenging kinds of questions out there that have to do with life, death, and the ethical approach to life.”
Meyer, author of several books and with a doctorate in early Christian studies, was born in Michigan to a mother who didn’t extend her education beyond high school and a father who never went past a rural 8th grade education and who was functionally illiterate.
“My father always wanted to be a minister, but he knew he couldn’t be because of his lack of education,” Meyer said. “My father put a lot of, what I would call ‘holy pressure’ on [my brother and me] to become ministers.”
Although Meyer’s brother pursued the path his father laid out for him, Meyer didn’t. After being the student body president at Calvin College during the Vietnam War, he was inspired to pursue social activism.
“I was very politically involved at the same time as I was going through this seminary that was a conservative, Presbyterian seminary,” he said. “And meanwhile, here I was with very long hair and transition glasses. It became clear by graduation that [being a minister] was not where I wanted to go.”
After leaving the life of a minister behind, Meyer and his wife traveled, and Meyer went to Claremont Graduate School. At the time, the two were singing in a group led by William Hall, now dean of the college of performing arts, who introduced Meyer to Chapman.
“He would sometimes haul us onto the campus of this little college in Orange County for rehearsals,” he said.
Meyer also had other connections with Chapman through a former professor, Fred Francis, who has since passed away.
“When he died, I applied for his position, and that’s where I ended up,” he said.
More than 20 years later, Meyer now teaches multiple religion courses, classes about Albert Schweitzer, and runs the religion department.
Alex Hallett, Chapman alum ’07, took Meyer’s Schweitzer: His Life and Thought class in 2005 and describes him as truthful, respectful and sincere.
“He is one of the most genuine, honest and humble human beings I’ve been fortunate enough to meet,” he said. “He is a professor who inspires a dialogue among students and encourages the personal pursuit of truth in the material being studied, rather than just feeding facts from a text and lecturing.”
Lindsey Clopp, a senior communications major, took the same class her sophomore year, and loved everything about it.
“He’s very passionate and believes a lot of the same things that Albert Schweitzer did,” she said. “You could tell he believed in what he was teaching.”
She hopes more Chapman students take the Schweitzer class because she feels that many don’t know what he did.
“The class really made me more aware of how I lead my life,” she said.
She describes Meyer as a comprehensive teacher who is very candid, especially when it came to speaking about Schweitzer. Hallett explains his teaching style as having a heavy emphasis on dialogue and inquiring deeply into the subject matter.
“He’s the definition of a servant leader,” Hallett said. “He doesn’t give you a proverbial fish and feed you for a day. He teaches you how to fish so you can feed yourself.”
Meyer’s loves teaching the Schweitzer class because the philosopher advocated a respect for life.
“If you’re shopping around for an ethic, his isn’t a bad one to think about,” Meyer said.
Meyer is looking forward to many things for the future, including writing more books, especially one about Schweitzer, and passing on his role as department head in the future to someone new.
“I enjoy doing it, but it’s a lot of work, and I’m dancing as fast I can,” he said.
One last concern he has for the department is what the future holds for it.
“I think that right now, in the spirit of Schweitzer, and the quest to address some of these huge questions of philosophy, religion and humanity, the big concern that I have is, what is going to happen to the humanities?” he asked. “How can we make sure that there is a strong humane and ethical basis for people that are being trained in other areas?”