Lecture series examines religion, politics
By Christine Paquin
Published on Tuesday, September 27, 2005
As faith occupies an increasingly high profile part of public life, academic disciplines at the College are coming together to sponsor a new lecture series on on religion as politics as part of the Dartmouth Centers Forum.
Aine Donovan, executive director of the Dartmouth Ethics Institute, one of six interdisciplinary centers involved in the forum, said the topic for this year's events came out of the last presidential campaign.
"The idea of religion and politics as this year's topic was conceived during the 2004 election when Howard Dean was visiting campus as the Rockefeller Center's Class of 1930 Distinguished Fellow," Donovan said.
Campus discussion surrounding the speech Student Body President Noah Riner '06 delivered at this year's Convocation exercises has made the topic even more relevant, Donovan added.
"The recent Riner controversy has served as a great impetus for the whole discussion of religion's role in politics," she said. "How do we talk about this in the public sphere?"
The Centers Forum was created over a year ago as a joint effort between the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, the William Jewett Tucker Foundation, the Ethics Institute, the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences and the Center for the Advancement of Learning.
Although the conception of this forum occurred through what Donovan called "a nice coincidence of events," the idea of a collaborative effort that transcends departmental boundaries is not new. Former Rockefeller Center Director Linda Fowler used to hold informal luncheons where professors of various disciplines could meet and discuss their concerns.
Despite potentially divergent agendas, the institutes settled upon religion and politics for this year's forum topic.
"It is often difficult to find speakers and topics, which reflect an overarching theme endorsed by all the departments, as the mission for each center is extremely different," Donovan said.
Todd Kilburn, assistant to the dean of the Tucker Foundation, said this year's forum topic achieves his organizations mission.
"An interdisciplinary program like the forum compliments the Tucker Foundation's overall goal of educating students to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens," Kilburn said.
Although the topic has been chosen, the forum's lineup remains uncertain because of the dynamic nature of the lecture series, Donovan said.
The first event of this year's forum was a lecture Friday on academic freedom given by Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University President and former provost of Dartmouth.
The next forum-sponsored event will give faculty members from different departments the opportunity to come together and discuss Bollinger's comments next month.
Donovan said she hopes to see a slight shift in focus as the forum progresses.
"I would like to see the next topic chosen by the departments to address technology in the 21st century and its effects on an undergraduate education," she said.
Donovan mentioned Bill Joy, former chief scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, as a possible guest in the spring of 2006 or fall of 2007.
Joy, who resigned from his company after growing uneasy with the rapid pace of its technological development, would make an interesting choice, according to Donovan.
"Joy worked to found this company and then realized that technology was outpacing the human capacity to harness it," she said.
Regardless of the topic chosen, the Centers Forum aims to foster dialogue on controversial issues while remaining relevant to individual departments.
Kilburn emphasized the timeliness of the lecture series.
"The forum is important as it gives us the opportunity to discuss these ethical and moral issues of our day," he said.