Professors are People Too: Dr. Jacob Wolf

Dr. Jacob Wolf is an Assistant Professor in the government department at Regent University’s College of Arts & Sciences. After completing a postdoctoral research fellowship at Princeton, Dr. Wolf found his way to Regent when his wife Alexandra showed him the job posting and suggested it would be nice to trade the New Jersey snow for Virginia Beach. He has been teaching classes in American government and the history of political philosophy for a little over a year now. 

You’ve mentioned that weightlifting is one of your hobbies, so I have to ask: what is your most impressive gym personal record?
“Woah, getting really personal here. Hm, there was a point in my life where I was at 4% body fat, which is like competition ready. That was my goal when I was in grad school. I wanted to be a body builder, which is just crazy because I totally went in a different direction. I used to work out seven days a week for two hours per day. It started out as a discipline, but I eventually fell in love with it, which I think is true of most things; it starts out as a chore, but it eventually becomes something you love. It’s really an example of the truth that what we do habitually shapes our sentiments and affections, just like Aristotle says.”

How has this idea of affections following habits impacted your thoughts on religion?
“As people, we tend to think we’re just fine how we are. We have a way of baptizing our desires and preferences; we give them a sort of holy standing. But that’s not how it is supposed to be. Our desires have to change, and they change through the practice of good habits. C.S. Lewis kind of makes this point in Mere Christianity when he talks about how to become a virtuous Christian. He basically says to fake it ‘til you make it, which seems a little funny. He tells people to go through the motions, the ritual of it, until the sentiments and the heart follows. In our culture, we’re so prone to justify the way we are. But the Lord wants to sanctify us, and He wants to build our affections for what is good and true and beautiful.”

In all your travels, what is the most beautiful place you’ve seen?
“There’s a chain of islands in northern Norway—the Lofoten Islands—and they are by far the most amazing thing I’ve seen. They were formed by volcanoes, so you see these mountainous looking islands that just explode out of the ocean. And then the Norwegians built these red fishing cabins all over them. It is really a picture of serene cabins surrounded by nature at its wildest.” 

How did you become interested in government?
“I’d say I became interested in politics through ideas rather than a draw to politics itself. I am passionate about getting good people into office who stand for good things, but I primarily teach government so I can consider big ideas with students. James Madison asks “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections of human nature?,” and I think he’s right. If you’re interested in philosophy and theology, government just sort of comes naturally. They’re all intertwined for me. Whenever I ask a political question, I run into a philosophical question, and from there I hit a theological question. Human beings are endlessly fascinating (and puzzling), and I think that’s what keeps me interested in government.”

How did you meet your wife?

“We actually met online while I was in grad school. At grad school in Boston, I realized I was a lone traditional Christian in a very progressive secular city, and I wasn’t meeting the specific kind of person I was looking for.

Alexandra was a student at the University of Arkansas at the time, and she reached out to me over a dating site we were on. But that initial message was a little funny because she definitely thought I was French. For context, I was studying in Lyon, France for the summer, and my profile talked about how I like Tocqueville and Descartes—both French thinkers. She would tell you I looked European too since I was wearing a skinny tie and cardigan in my picture. But her message said something like ‘I read your profile, and I have to say, you have very good English for a French person.’ Then I had to tell her I was just a boring American, but we obviously made it past that. We talked for seven months before we got to meet in person and then dated long-distance for a few years. We’ve now been married for two years.”

What surprised you about Alexandra once you were able to spend more time with her?
“So, I knew she was uniquely talented, but seeing it in person is even more amazing. I had really high expectations for who I would end up dating, and she blew them out of the water. For example, in undergrad, I was a double major and had a minor, and I thought I was an overachiever. But she was a triple major with a minor and was one course away from another major. I can play five instruments fairly well, but she plays five instruments masterfully. She is an unbelievable painter—most of the artwork in our house is hers. Her character too; she’s more thoughtful than anyone I’ve ever encountered. She’s also an amazing cook, which is, to bring us full circle, why I have no hope of ever becoming a bodybuilder.”