Philosophy Professor Diego Lucci Discusses Latest Book, “John Locke's Christianity”
Professor in Philosophy Diego Lucci, who, beyond a beloved AUBG professor, is also a prolific writer and researcher, has just published a new book. “John Locke's Christianity,” published by Cambridge University Press, is an impressive scholarly work that offers an in-depth exploration of the English philosopher’s thinking. The result of years of hard work, the book is, in Lucci’s words, a “detailed and systematic examination and reassessment of Locke’s original, heterodox, and internally coherent version of Protestant Christianity.”
In the over 15 years that he has been teaching at AUBG, Lucci, who comes from Italy, has become an integral part of university life. In 2016, the students from More Honors Academy gave him The Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2017, he received the Excellence in Teaching Award for his contribution to academic life at AUBG. We spoke to Professor Lucci to learn more about his latest academic work, why he enjoys teaching at AUBG, and what student achievements make him most proud.
What is the goal of your new book, “John Locke's Christianity?” What are some of the previously unexplored ideas surrounding Locke’s religious interests that you discuss in your latest publication?
Locke was a deeply religious person and definitely a Christian thinker, whose Christian worldview permeated virtually all areas of his philosophical production. Several articles and a few books call attention to this aspect of Locke’s mindset and oeuvre. However, before the publication of my new book, there was no thorough analysis and interpretation of Locke’s religious ideas, which Locke explained unsystematically and at times ambiguously. In John Locke’s Christianity, I offer a detailed and systematic examination and reassessment of Locke’s original, heterodox, and internally coherent version of Protestant Christianity, paying attention to his reflection on morality, biblical hermeneutics, views on salvation and the afterlife, Christology, and theory of toleration. Furthermore, I apply a contextualist method, concentrating on both textual analysis and a consideration of the intellectual, socio-cultural, and political context in which Locke lived and wrote. In this regard, I reconsider the main influences on Locke’s religious thought, with an emphasis on his interest in the anti-Trinitarian Socinians’ ideas, the anti-Calvinist Arminians’ theology, and the natural law tradition. I also take into account the legacy of Locke’s theological thinking among Enlightenment freethinkers as well as eighteenth-century divines. Last but not least, I highlight the impact of Locke’s religious beliefs on different areas of his thought, particularly on his moral and political ideas. For instance, I argue that his ethics was a sort of theistic and rationalist deontological ethics, I demonstrate that his natural and biblical theology played a significant role in his theory of natural rights and duties, and I call attention to the religious foundations of his tolerationism.
In addition to teaching at AUBG, you have a prolific career as a writer and a researcher. How do you combine these two roles, and in what ways do they complement each other?
When one teaches at a liberal arts college, it is not easy to combine research with teaching and service. When it comes to writing articles, I would say that anyone can do it. But it takes a lot of time, energy, effort, and planning to write a book, particularly on a topic that is relatively new to the author, as was the case with Locke’s religion to me. I started work on this book several years ago, in 2014. I have read an enormous amount of articles and books on Locke and his context, besides his public as well as private writings. This means that, in the last few years, I spent my winter and summer breaks doing research and I had only a couple of weeks of holiday every year. During the semester, it is quite hard to work on research, because preparing classes, teaching, and, above all, grading are demanding are time-consuming. But this is part of my job. It would indeed make no sense to study and write without sharing your studies, the results of your research, and your competencies with your students. Therefore, I am glad to do both things.
What are your favorite topics for research?
I decided to specialize in philosophy when I was seventeen years old and studied the Age of Enlightenment at high school. Today, more than a quarter of century later, this is still my favorite research field. During my first two years at university, I focused, above all, on twentieth-century Continental philosophy, mainly on the reflection on the origins of modernity and its bright as well as dark sides in currents such as phenomenology, existentialism, the Frankfurt School, post-structuralism, and New Thinking. But then I realized that, if I wanted to understand the foundations of our modern conceptual categories, I needed to go “back to the sources” (in Latin, “ad fontes”). Therefore, I decided to devote my attention, as a student and then as a scholar, to the epoch-making dynamics and changes triggered by the major intellectual and philosophical movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a focus on moral, philosophical-political, and religious ideas. I think that it is impossible to realize who we are if we do not have a clear understanding of the historical and philosophical origins of modernity.
What do you enjoy about teaching to AUBG students? What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a professor?
I think that AUBG is a great university because many AUBG students are very serious, talented, and motivated. More importantly, even our students who have average grades are still polite and respectful people, with whom it is pleasant to work. There are some exceptions, of course, but these are, fortunately, only a few exceptions. One of the things that I truly like, here, is that grade inflation is not an issue and, consequently, “grade grubbing” students are a slight minority. In a few words, here I can do my job as a teacher seriously, and I can give honest feedback to my students. At many other colleges and universities, unfortunately, this is not the case.
As regards my most rewarding moments as a professor at AUBG, I really had a great time when I received the Life Achievement Award from the More Honors Academy back in 2016. Believe me: it is amazing to see several thousand students and alumni cheering at you in a big sports hall. And this award means a lot to me, because it is a sign of students’ appreciation of my job not only in the classroom, but also outside of it, on campus. Another great moment was when I received, back in 2017, the Excellence in Teaching Award in recognition of my achievements as a teacher. I cherish this award because it was not only AUBG students, but also my colleagues who bestowed it on me.
I feel a deep sense of reward, also, whenever one of my former students achieves some great result in life. When teaching and grading, I consider all students equal. But some of them take several of my courses, others take the Philosophy and Religion Minor, still others take a Self-Designed Major and ask me to be their advisor. A special bond inevitably develops with these students, and I am then proud when they inform me of their progresses upon leaving AUBG. Recently, one of them, Khafiz Kerimov, who graduated from AUBG in 2014, made me very, very proud and made me feel that my job really makes sense. He received his PhD in Philosophy from DePaul University one year ago, upon defending a brilliant dissertation on Immanuel Kant’s moral and religious thought. Then, a few months later, he was offered a tenure-track position at St. John’s College in Annapolis – one of the oldest and most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the US. I am sure that the other outstanding students I have met in my fifteen years at AUBG will not mind if I single Khafiz out. But, believe me, when one of your students decides to follow your path and proves to be at least as successful as you… well, as a professor you really feel that you have done your job very well.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in building a career in academia on how to succeed?
The answer to this question is not easy. But I will try to be as honest as possible. When you decide to devote your life to academia, you don’t do it because you want to become successful, famous, popular, or rich. You do it because you have some questions to answer and, therefore, you devote your life to searching for the answers to your questions. It is a matter of intellectual curiosity impacting on your existence. And when you decide to write an article or a book on a certain topic, you don’t do it because you have to show someone else what you can do or how “great” you are. You do it to challenge yourself and to find some answers on your own.
Another piece of advice I would give a prospective scholar is: always be open to feedback and constructive criticism from others, particularly from those who know better than you. When I look back at my years as a student and then a young researcher, I feel very upset at those who just told me that “everything is fine” when, in fact, there were some things to fix in my methodological approach, thesis, and conclusions. Conversely, I am grateful to those who did not hesitate to criticize me and to point out even minor mistakes or shortcomings in my analysis and argument. This is what enabled me to improve, as a scholar and as a person, too.
This is what I try to teach my students in courses that entail a research component: ask a question, give an answer (or, in other words, formulate a thesis), and substantiate your answer with a convincing argument, after considering different options and possible objections. And use others’, especially your professors’, feedback and constructive criticism to improve. After all, you are here to learn, to improve – not just to get a letter or a number on your transcripts and diploma.
This is indeed what I did when starting work on this book on Locke. I wanted to show myself that I was able to write something meaningful about a topic that I found fascinating, important, and under-explored. Then, when I completed each chapter, I sent it to other scholars to receive their feedback, and I greatly benefited from the suggestions I received from these people and from two anonymous reviewers appointed by Cambridge University Press. Thanks to these experts’ feedback, now my book is much better than it was in its draft version – which was already very good, given that the top academic press in the world decided to publish it. And I am very satisfied with the final result that CUP has published, which is the outcome of years of study, thinking, drafting, rethinking, correcting, and redrafting. After all, so is human life, which is never an easy, straight path, but consists of continual planning, pursuits, efforts, adjustments, and new beginnings.