Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2011-02-23


Guest lecturer Susan M. Shaw advised Samford University students to identify, seize and follow their individual passions during a talk Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Following their passion, or the “one necessity” that they feel called to do, means following their hearts. And that often involves risk, which requires courage in the face of vulnerability, said Dr. Shaw, professor of women studies at Oregon State University.

If fear wins out, and the safer, more travelled road is chosen, “Often we end up in dead end jobs and unfulfilling relationships,” said Shaw, who spoke as this year’s Marie NeSmith Fowler lecturer at Samford.

“When we don’t listen to our hearts and follow, then we are not faithful to ourselves, nor to God. God does not call us to what we hate and send us where we do not want to go,” said Shaw, transitional director of the School of Language, Culture and Society at Oregon State and author of many works related to Southern Baptists, feminism and women.

For some people, she said, calling and career may line up, but others may realize their calling through avocation rather than job.  “Either way, identifying and following that calling is the key to creating your place in the world, that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”

“Following our passion is not only about ourselves,” she said. “When we do what we love, when we follow our hearts, our acts have far-reaching implications beyond anything we can imagine.” 

“When we follow our heart, we make a difference in the world,” she said, citing examples such as theologian-turned medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, loyal Old Testament daughter-in-law Ruth, and Deitrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a German concentration camp after fleeing the safety of England to oppose Adolph Hitler.

Noting that the Fowler lecture focuses on women, Christianity and leadership, Shaw directed some comments to the female students, at the same time noting that it’s “good stuff” for the men to hear, too.

“Do not let anyone put limitations on your calling,” she advised. “You can be anything God calls you to be.”

Also, “claim,” rather than “receive” an education. “The difference is between being a passive recipient or an active participant, and it means the courage to be different.”

And, don’t give in to the temptation to take the path of least resistance, which for women often is the path that conforms to gender expectations and insists that fulfillment comes from denying self and living only for others.

And finally, she said, “Don’t underestimate the difference you can make. The truth of the matter is that when you answer your calling, when you take the risk to do what you love, when you step up and lead, you can change world.”

The Fowler lecture series, sponsored by Samford’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center, honors the late Mrs. Fowler, a Samford graduate and Hartselle, Ala., resident who was among the first female pharmacists and pharmacy owners in Alabama.

Audience members for Tuesday’s lecture in Reid Chapel included Mrs. Fowler’s daughter and son-in-law, Trevor and Karen Fowler Howell, Samford graduates who live in Nashville, Tenn., and daughter-in-law Amanda Fowler of Tuscaloosa, Ala.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.