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Vocational Study from Ohio Northern University

Creating a Common Language of Vocation
at Ohio Northern University
Presented by the NetVUE Grant Vocational Study Team
to the University Community
September 14, 2015

Introduction: What is Vocation?

The term “vocation” has taken on two primary meanings within contemporary society. On the one hand, many think of vocation in terms of practical work, as in the sense of “vocational training,” wherein one studies a trade or marketable skill in preparation for employment. “Vocational school” is often seen as an alternative to college, and as good preparation for skilled trades such as plumbing, electrical work, construction, and home health aides. On the other hand, many who hear the word “vocation” automatically assign it a theological meaning. Within some circles, such as the Roman Catholic Church, vocation can have a very specific meaning—that of a call to the religious life, such as serving as a priest, monk, or nun. Within Protestant Christianity, vocation is often seen as having a broader application, in the sense that all people are called by God to specific work in life, regardless of whether or not that work takes place within the Church. In this sense, one’s vocation is holy work, carried out within secular contexts. The concept of vocation as a theological concept has been largely forgotten in 21st century America, as most people associate the term with the former meaning, that of training for skilled work.

“Vocation” comes to the English language via the Latin vocare, meaning “call.” For most Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this call comes primarily from God. For instance, Exodus chapter three tells the story of the call of Moses. God spoke to Moses from within a burning bush, and sent him to bring a message of freedom from slavery to the Hebrews who were enslaved in Egypt. 1 Samuel 3:1-10 recounts the call of the young boy Samuel, who heard the voice of God calling him. The New Testament is filled with examples of persons being called by Jesus.

The meaning of vocation in the context of a modern university education lies somewhere between the two most common interpretations of the term. It is reasonable to conclude that higher education trains one in the necessary skills for a particular profession, but it is equally reasonable to conclude that one of the purposes of the university is to help students discover their “calling,” whether that calling is from the Divine, from within the individual’s own convictions, or from the needs of society. Theologian Frederick Buechner may have put it best when he wrote that vocation is the place “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Though speaking from a Christian perspective, Buechner encapsulates the educational mission of most institutions of higher learning, including the mission of Ohio Northern University, which reads, in part, “…to provide a high quality learning environment that prepares students for success in their careers, service to their communities, the nation, and the world, and a lifetime of personal growth inspired by the higher values of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

The rest of the document can be read and downloaded here: Creating a Common Language of Vocation (PDF)