First Endowed Chair of Spirituality Appointed

An engaged and dynamic scholar committed to expanding inclusion, fostering empowerment, and developing citizen leaders has been appointed as the Inaugural Endowed Chair of Spirituality at Michigan State University. The position is the first of its kind at MSU and at any U.S. educational institution. It is among 82 new endowed faculty positions established during MSU’s Empower Extraordinary campaign.

Morgan Shipley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at MSU, will transition in August 2021 to the Foglio Endowed Chair in Spirituality within MSU’s College of Arts & Letters. The chair is named in honor of the late Father Jake Foglio, an alumnus who served as a faculty member, priest, and mentor to student-athletes and coaches.

Photo of a smiling man with a brown and gray beard. He is wearing a black sweater and blue and white checked dress shirt.
Dr. Morgan Shipley

“To be chosen as the Inaugural Chair is a feeling I can’t express in words,” Shipley said. “I’m incredibly honored to help advance MSU’s commitment to preparing students to lead well-meaning lives in a diverse and interconnected world.”

Shipley’s selection follows a year-long national search by an interdisciplinary group of faculty. Search Committee Chair Arthur Versluis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, said the intent was to appoint an individual capable of perpetuating the university’s core values of inclusiveness, connectivity, and improving the human condition through scholarship, research, and service.

Dr. Shipley will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the MSU community and beyond. He will carry forward Father Foglio’s unique vision, while also moving forward scholarship in this important area: the study of the many aspects of religion and spirituality in a secular society.

Arthur Versluis, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies

“Dr. Shipley will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the MSU community and beyond,” Versluis said. “He will carry forward Father Foglio’s unique vision, while also moving forward scholarship in this important area: the study of the many aspects of religion and spirituality in a secular society. Without doubt, Jake Foglio would be very happy at this outcome and would have enjoyed planning activities and events with Dr. Shipley.”

A Journey of Discovery

Shipley grew up in a mid-sized town on the northwest edge of metropolitan Chicago. His mother practiced the Jewish faith and was a teacher and social activist. His dad worked his way out of poverty as a young man and continued to work long, hard hours to support his family of six.

Shipley remembers his parents’ endless dedication and service to others, a value that was reinforced by his maternal grandmother, who, each week, would call to say hello and to ask what good deed he had done since their last talk.

“That question and idea stuck with me throughout my maturation,” Shipley said. “It wasn’t until I got into college and started working that it began to truly resonate.”

a side-headshot of a older man with white hair wearing a green suit
Father Jake Foglio, whom the Foglio Chair in Spirituality is named after.

While attending DePaul University for his undergraduate education in Political Philosophy, Shipley took a class that transformed his thinking. He began to see his education as a mechanism to help others through projects of compassion and altruism. He developed a four-year service-learning project that paired DePaul students with high-risk middle-schoolers in an impoverish district. Inspired, he went on to earn his master’s in Social Science Methodologies with a focus in the Philosophy of Religion from the University of Chicago and to work for nonprofits focused on ensuring government transparency.

Shipley then took a step back and wondered if he was doing enough to make a difference.

“My work was fulfilling to me, but I wondered if the results were fulfilling enough for others,” he said. “I wanted to have that distinct honor of helping others discover what they want to do with their lives and to help them see how their work can be applied as a conduit for change.”

Shipley applied to MSU for his doctorate and embarked on the next stage of his academic career. The university’s American Studies program provided the interdisciplinary approach he was seeking for his exploration of how religion and spirituality can either transform or marginalize communities. He also found support for examining the connections between religious movements, social justice, and altruism.

I wanted to have that distinct honor of helping others discover what they want to do with their lives and to help them see how their work can be applied as a conduit for change.

Morgan Shipley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Since earning his doctorate in American Studies in 2013, Shipley has taught, advised, and engaged in scholarly research and publication. He has played an active role with the College of Arts & Letters’ Citizen Scholars Program and with the Center for Gender in Global Context.

“As a young person coming of age, I never would have foreseen the opportunities here at MSU to study, research, and teach,” Shipley said. “It goes full circle back to what I learned early on about seeing your successes through the successes of others. It’s that whole concept of empathetic joy.”

One of his students had this to say: “Morgan Shipley is quite honestly one of, if not the best teachers I have had throughout my educational experience. His openness is remarkable, his empathy astounding, and his genuine passion about his focus of study and bringing that to students is unparalleled…Morgan was very good at fostering an open and exploratory dialogue about religion, which can be a difficult topic to cover objectively in any setting. By having a willingness to use his own experiences and history, Morgan bridged the gap of the lecture podium and became someone we could interact with on a human level…I feel honored to have taken this class, which, even as an elective, has been one of the most wonderful educational experiences of my undergrad education.”

On Being Human

Shipley remembers meeting Jake Foglio once or twice as a graduate student. It was 2010, and Shipley was engaged in projects to make campus more inclusive and welcoming. Foglio was the perfect person to go to for insight.

“My teaching, research, and service work is grounded in similar approaches he took,” Shipley said. “He was truly an inspiring person and my understanding is reflective of his own guidance that spirituality is about the pursuit and practice of excellence in human living.”

Shipley also believes that spirituality plays a key role in all areas of study and human endeavors. Spirituality, he said, is secular. It’s not so much about belief in a higher power as it is about empathy, altruism, and a sense of being human.

two men taking a photo together, the one on the left is wearing glasses and a grey suit, the one on the right is wearing a green suit
Dean Christopher P. Long (left) and Father Jake Foglio (right)

Within his role as endowed chair, Shipley will develop curriculum that intentionally engages students with concepts of spirituality. Students will be invited to enter journeys of self-reflection and to connect their professional aspirations with values of responsibility, stewardship, and compassion.

“Father Jake always spoke of the importance of ‘dual excellences,’ of being excellent in your chosen profession, and of being an excellent human being. I cannot imagine a more fitting person to serve as the inaugural Foglio Chair of Spirituality than Professor Morgan Shipley,” said Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. “A scholar of great accomplishment and creativity, Morgan is also a beloved teacher and caring colleague committed to bringing the deep search for meaning that animates his scholarship intentionally into the world.”

A scholar of great accomplishment and creativity, Morgan is also a beloved teacher and caring colleague committed to bringing the deep search for meaning that animates his scholarship intentionally into the world.

Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters

Shipley says that a university education is not simply about teaching transferable skills and advancing professional opportunities, it’s also about growing leaders and citizens.

“Some of the greater things we can do as spiritual educators is to introduce humanistic inquiry into fields that aren’t traditionally focused on these ideas,” he said. “We’re in a position to help society flourish by thinking about the type of educational experience we want to provide — one that helps our students reflect on how they are part of an interconnected human community, not just a world driven by monetary and material success.”

Looking back at his own journey, Shipley said he is deeply honored to be entrusted with a position where he can help light the spark that helps others find their purpose.

“To my grandma and parents, I say thank you,” he said. “I am also thankful to my wife and my in-laws whose endless support, love, and sacrifice reconfirms my belief that we are most fully human when we are helping and caring for others.”