A UVa-Wise professor is contributing to a new journal on The Father of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson.
Garrett Sheldon, the John Morton Beaty Professor of Political Science, will have an article included in “Thomas Jefferson’s Life and Times”, a new journal to evaluate the comprehensive life of Jefferson. Sheldon is a member of the Jefferson Heritage Society as well as on the Advisory Board for the new journal.
An avid fan and scholar of Jefferson, Sheldon said, “If you can’t find anything interesting in Jefferson, you probably won’t find anything interesting in anything.”
Even before he began his 34-year position at UVa-Wise, Sheldon wrote his doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University on Jefferson’s political theory. He found the former president fascinating and has been exploring all aspects of Jefferson’s life from architecture to wine.
Sheldon has focused on Jefferson’s political philosophy and how he adapted classical political thinkers to write some of the most important documents in American history – appropriate given that Sheldon ended up teaching political science at the university Jefferson founded.
Sheldon’s article in the journal’s first edition deals with Jefferson’s ideas on religion. Sheldon views Jefferson as the founder of the American conception of religious freedom. Sheldon said that Jefferson believed that “freedom of religion wouldn’t be against religion, but would in fact promote religion.” The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, written by Jefferson in 1777 and passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, was the basis for religious freedom in the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
Sheldon’s article in the journal’s second edition will cover Jefferson’s ideas on academic freedom. The second edition, titled “The Academical Village”, focuses on the design of UVA and how Jefferson intended for the university to be a community as well as the curriculum and formation of the United States first public university.
“’For here, we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it,’” Sheldon quoted from Jefferson. “That is the classic statement on American academic freedom. You don’t see that around the world.”
Sheldon described Jefferson’s political philosophy of the truth coming from debate among people with different beliefs and that “the idea of academic freedom is not only does it make you learn more, but it teaches you how to think.”
Sheldon will also contribute to the 2017 CSPAN Presidential Ranking Survey. His contribution to the 2009 survey and previous lectures led to his continued participation for the 2017 edition. The survey, which is held after a president finishes their term(s) in office, is an evaluation and ranking of all presidents based on their foreign relations, economic management, and other qualities. This year, President Obama will be included with the other forty-three presidents before him. The survey will appear on President’s Day, Feb 20.
Sheldon hopes that the new journal and the articles he contributes will cultivate interest in Jefferson among young people. “The Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson” will be featured in college libraries around the country.
The first edition of “The Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson” will be available this spring, with the second edition following in the summer.