Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hauerwas at the University of Minnesota

Last Thursday I walked across the Mississippi river to hear Stanley Hauerwas speak on the West Bank of the U of M campus. He was giving the 12th Annual Holmer Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Maclaurin Institute (whose admirable mission is to "bring God into the marketplace of ideas" on the Minnesota campus). The event was a rare opportunity for those of us at this public university to hear from an honest-to-goodness Christian theologian and, appropriately, Hauerwas spoke about the role of theology in the modern university, the subject of his most recent book.

Since you can read a good summary of his remarks here, I won't try to recreate the lecture. I generally agree with his main point that we need to find a way to bring theology back into higher education. The university needs theology, and theology needs the university.

I had never heard Hauerwas speak before but I've read plenty of stories concerning his explosive and colorful personality. So I naturally went in with high expectations. Hauerwas, though, was surprisingly tame, using occasional profanity but never reaching a full boil. Despite this, he made a number of memorable comments, especially in the question-and-answer section. For instance, he said "I'm a theocrat but I'm also a pacifist. And I don't know how to rule the world nonviolently, but I'd like to have the chance." Also, "For a Christian college to offer the same education as a public school but say that they're educating the 'whole person', that's bullshit. That's not Christianity, that's just hand-holding." In response to a question about Bob Jones University, he said "Bob Jones, they're just dumb, it needs to be said. It's sort of a learned ignorance, but they know nothing about Christianity, that's their problem."

I enjoyed the lecture but it raised a question that perhaps some of my readers can answer: why do academics in the humanities read their lectures straight off the page? I've always found this strange and somewhat annoying. In the sciences, we speak freely in our lectures, with nothing prepared except our visual aids or a few notes. Such talks are more natural and pleasant to hear than someone monotonously reading. Thankfully, Hauweras often departed from his prepared text, and it was in those moments when he was most genuine and interesting. I wished the entire lecture was that way. If scientists and preachers can speak in public with only notes, why can't English or theology professors? Why do we expect so little from them with regards to presentation style?

1 comment:

CPA said...

Maybe it's because in the humanities, the words themselves function like the equations do in science. The exact form of the words has to be right for the formulation to be right. Imagine listening to a mathematical lecture in which all the equations were not given fixed written form, but just approximated off the cuff. That is what an off the cuff humanities lecture might feel like, especially in topics like philosophy.

On the other hand, we might just be nervous and insecure. After all, most of the populace regards what we do as worthless anyway.