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From the Colloquium, February 2016

From the Colloquium

Since 2006, the Lilly Fellows Program Director has published a “From the Colloquium” column about four times per year. The idea behind this column is to share some of the common readings from the colloquia of the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows Program and the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program.

This fall, the weekly colloquium of the residential Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows, led by Founding Director Mark Schwehn, addressed the question, “How might practices and perspectives from the Christian faith and tradition contribute to teaching and scholarship in the contemporary academy?”  In the last edition of “From the Colloquium” I surveyed many of the texts the Postdoctoral Fellows colloquium used to address that question.  Since that November column, the colloquium has address three additional texts and a film. First, the colloquium read several chapters from James Elkins’ Pictures and Tears. In this work, which has been a favorite of the Lilly Graduate Fellows, Elkins, an art historian, reflects on how his academic training has affected his ability to be moved emotionally by encounters with art, specifically, and beauty, more broadly. The discipline of art history opens up a wider conversation about the role of emotions in research and pedagogy and, perhaps more deeply, how first order thought and disciplinary formation alter our perceptions not only in aesthetics but more broadly in our approach to and engagement with our academic subjects.  From there, the colloquium read selections from Christian Wiman’s 2013 My Bright Abyss, focusing on questions regarding the motivations and inner characterizes that prompt artistic and academic work. From Wiman we moved to Abraham Heschel’s classic The Sabbath.  Like Elkins’ Pictures and Tears, this is a regular reading among both the Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellows.  In it, Heschel delineates the distinction between those parts of our lives aimed at mastering space (the secular; the drive to have) and those that could be devoted to sacred time, which we cannot control (the sacred or Sabbath, the need simply to be).  Finally, the colloquium viewed the film, Of God’s and Men, focused on the work and witness of a monastic community in North Africa in the midst of war.  A meditative work much like Babette’s Feast, it highlights the way practices informed the brothers’ response to increasingly difficult situation.

In the May issue of “From the Colloquium,” I will survey the books the Postdoctoral Fellows read this spring semester.

By Joe Creech

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