Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on August 28, 2023

To help prepare us for our upcoming advance we received an email from Cliff that provided us with an overview of the intentions behind the “I AM HERE” day.[1] This message suggested that to appreciate our time in this revered town, we might consider the concept of Terroir, or a sense of “somewhereness.” It stated:

 “Certain wines have characteristics unique to the specific areas or regions they are from. It has to do with the makeup of the soil, the micro climates, the traditional farming practices in that area, etc…How might experiencing and analyzing the terroir of Oxford help you to do the same in your own location, or other locations?”

The concept of terroir is an intriguing one as I think about the reading we were assigned for this first week of our second year in the DLGP program. I see an interconnectedness in learning about the history of a place such as Oxford and in how Oxford has in turn played a role in shaping education in today’s society. How might analyzing the terroir of such a place help me in thinking about my own academic journey? In considering the concepts of terroir that influences education, I have a few observations:

  1. It appears that Oxford’s considerable influence extends all the way to how modern governments are organized.

“The Provisions put their rights and powers on a firm legal footing and have been described as England’s first written constitution. The new deal introduces a powerful council of twenty-four nobles – half selected by the King, half by the Barons. This was the first elected chamber in Europe…”[2]

This little nugget of the history, or terroir of Oxford gives insight into the cultural character of Oxford. I wonder about the impact of such a legacy may have on the community of Oxford. I am also reminded of the brevity of my own nation’s history and left in awe of the global impact of this little town.

  1. My summer reading around higher education uncovered an interplay between education, religion and culture and its broader implications on society. For example, take the following two examples of how education has created division between people groups:
  • In Oxford, students were religious leaders, and were separated from society to protect them. “The university was exempt from the laws that applied to laymen: the origin of the famous ‘town versus Gown’ divide. Students were originally clerics…. Herded into halls, under a master or Principal, the intention was to spare them the many temptations of the Oxford streets.”[3]
  • Women’s Colleges in the United States were often designed with the intention of reducing the students’ ability to interact with the outside world out of fear that they may become corrupted or lose some of their ‘femininity.’[4]

Aside from obvious questions of equity, this potential pattern of segregation leaves me with other questions: Does the field of academia have a history of a belief that education was or should be somehow sterile, or untainted from the influence of the world? Was that a justified aspiration? What sort of “world germs” would pose a threat to the goals of education? With a legacy of division between the uneducated and educated as well as the barriers we put between various groups and educational endeavors, how does that impact the terroir or character of the education we are all pursuing?

Still, there are more considerations for our upcoming trip to Oxford and the terroir of education. Two memoirs I have read in in recent memory touch on the impact of education on the lives of the authors. One could go so far as to say that education provided the makeup of the “climate” that provided the terroir for their lives. Tara Westover retells the saga of her childhood beginning in a restrictive, dysfunctional, and abusive environment and her pathway to escaping such a dangerous setting by way of education. Her compelling book Educated: a Memoir outlines her radical transformation that happened as a student at BYU and Cambridge. The impact her university experience had on her life paints a broader representation of higher education as a dependable, altruistic hero of her story.

In his memoir Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life, CS Lewis also writes of the impact that education had on his life. However, his recounting has another, more nuanced view. While Westover found a respite from her perilous childhood by moving to school, as a child, Lewis was introduced to a dysfunctional and abusive environment via his education in various boarding schools. Lewis ultimately attends Oxford and, in that community he discovers a new educational environment that provides him an intellectual stimulus that leads to a different kind of salvation. Westover and Lewis have two very different experiences; each one highlighting the life-changing impacts of academia.

So, on the one hand, I am discovering paths of insular isolation and discrimination within education while also reading accounts of the transforming power of the same endeavor. As our trip to Oxford draws closer, I find that I have no conclusions to draw from all of this information except a deepening attitude of awareness and curiosity regarding the impact Oxford has had on academia at large, and an excitement to discover more insights.




[2] (Sullivan, p23)

[3] (Sullivan, p24)

[4] https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/dangerous-experiment

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

6 responses to ““Somewhereness””

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Brilliant as always.

    Terroir….I am looking forward to the rather foreign academic soil of Oxford. White male and 70 something.

    Asian, 60 something, coming from the tropical island of Oahu, Hawaii. Transplanted into Germany, Slovakia, Italy, Korea, Iraq, and Turkey (thank you U.S. Army). Missionary in Hungary and Texas and now huddled under the shadow of America’s Mountain Pikes Peak.

    I seem be watching more than doing lately, pruned back from missionary activity and grafted onto an academic branch that is helping me grow in a new direction – U.S. Immigration.

    Terroir… I wonder if my worldly wandering is a different kind of soil. Different flavors from different countries pushing themselves to the future fruit that I will bear (or not). Still I hope that Oxford will add to the bouquet of enlightenment.


    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I am convinced that a background such as you have outlined can only enhance the terroir of Oxford, Russell. What is interesting to me is how to facilitate that type of enrichment? How do we create spaces for the interchange needed to make such sharing possible?

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Jen, as I read your post and the questioning around the limits and freedoms academic settings can create (some limits more than others, and some settings more free-ing or liberating than others), I actually thought about our blog assignment for next week and some of the questions one of the videos raised. Of course, we’ll be talking about A.I. next week, which is forcing educators to rethink a number of things. What is it that education is actually supposed to measure, and what metrics do those in academia need to use to determine whether the student has demonstrated competency in their studies? Does “going off to college (or pursuing a doctorate)”…even in a place as storied and revered as Oxford, promote the sort of mastery needed to solve problems, or does it keep people cloistered away? I think you ended your post well, leaving it with an “I don’t know” (you said you have no conclusions to draw from). I found your post refreshing to leave the tension on the table for the time being. Great post.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I am glad you liked the post, and I agree with your tying it to the AI conversation. Some of the material we read/heard for week 2 was pushing on the legacy beliefs around the role of education… are we trying to get learners to mold themselves to fit into our idea of academia, or does academia need to shift towards the new shape of the workplace?
      Still more questions!

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I resonate with your thoughts on academic terroir; I wonder if the idea could extend to subcultures such as geographic regions of the US or even denominational subcultures. For example, are there observable differences between a Christian in the Pacific Northwest and a Christian from the Midwest? Granted, whenever we talk about cultures or subcultures we need to be careful to avoid sweeping generalizations, but our environments do have enormous power to shape us.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Yes! Just this week, I am working with a group that I volunteer with that is looking to spread a solution across the globe… it’s a technically good solution, but we are wrestling with how to make it fit in the various subcultures- the Pacific Northwest and Europe being two key examples. We are assuming that the success or failure of our implementations across these various geographies will be impacted in large part by how well we take the terroir into account.

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