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Chaplain’s Speaker Series

Starting in Spring of 2013, the University Chaplain has been given the charge of starting a new speaker series to bring to Vanderbilt’s campus dynamic and thought provoking speakers who will speak to religious life and the life of spirituality on college campuses. Bringing one great speaker per semester, the Office of Religious Life welcomes the opportunity to hear from clergy, professionals and speakers alike to delve into a topic that is needed to be talked about more on university campuses.


The Island of Knowledge with Dr. Marcelo Gleiser

The Chaplain’s Speaker series is excited to announce its fall 2014 speaker as Dr. Marcelo Gleiser from Dartmouth College. Dr. Gleiser will join us on Thursday, September 25th at 7pm  in Benton Chapel to discuss his latest work, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning.

Humans have worked to understand and explain the universe for millennia, but Gleiser says we’ll never know it all—and proceeds to explain why. We are driven “to make sense of the world” and our place in it, and advances in mathematics and technology, from geometry and lenses to calculus and computers, have expanded our reach, revealing details of the very small and the very large. But as that “island of knowledge” grows, Gleiser says, “so do the shores of our ignorance.” From Copernicus’s proof that the Earth orbited the Sun to Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation and motion, and quantum theory’s uncertainty principle, solutions that solved major problems also made many uncomfortable because they revealed deeper mysteries, showing “the true vastness of space and time.” Gleiser covers a broad swath of subjects—from cognition and curved space to particle physics, superstring theory, and multiverses—with a thoughtful, accessible style that balances philosophy with hard science. His island imagery will capture readers’ imagination as it examines the ideas that unnerve us even as they illuminate our world.


Gleiser will also be giving the colloquium address in the Department of Physics and Astronomy on Thursday, September 25, at 3:00PM in Stevenson 4327 entitled “Emergent Complexity in the Universe: An Information-Entropic Approach.” The abstract for his colloquium address is as follows:
From atoms to stars, physically-bound systems result from the interplay between attractive and repulsive interactions. In this lecture, I will present a new measure of complexity called “Configurational Entropy”. Inspired by Shannon’s information entropy, I will show how the configurational entropy encodes information about the shape and the stability of various physical objects, and how it can be used as an efficient measure of emerging complexity during nonequilibrium phenomena. Applications will include solitons, compact astrophysical objects, spontaneous symmetry breaking, and inflationary cosmology.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, & Christ Pantocrator, with Dr. Ralph C. Wood

On March 11, 2014 at 6:30 pm, Dr. Wood joined us in Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel.

Ralph C. Wood has served as University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor since 1998. He previously served for 26 years on the faculty of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he became the John Allen Easley Professor of Religion in 1990. He has also taught at Samford University in Birmingham, at Regent College in Vancouver, and at Providence College in Rhode Island and has spoken internationally including the Vatican and Notre Dame and most continents.

At Baylor, his main appointment is in the Religion Department, but he also teaches in the Great Texts program as well as the Department of English. He serves as an editor-at-large for the Christian Century and as an editorial board member for both the Flannery O’Connor Review and Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review.

Dr. Wood on his Academic Interests and Research: “I seek to interpret several of the major literary texts of the West, especially from the 19th and 20th centuries, from a confessionally Christian angle of vision. My aim is to show the relevance of these books to the witness of the Church as well as to the life of secular culture.”


Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes – Does Your House Have Lions?

On February 26th, 2014 at 7 pm in Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel, the Chaplain’s Speaker Series returned with Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, the 16th Dean of Vanderbilt’s Divinity School. Dean Townes gave a talk entitled, “Does Your House Have Lions? Citizenship and Faith in Today’s World.”

View the Video

Dean Townes holds the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Womanist Ethics and Society. She came to Vanderbilt from Yale University, where she was a distinguished scholar and administrator. Townes’ broad areas of expertise include Christian ethics, cultural theory and studies, postmodernism and social postmodernism. She has been a pioneering scholar in womanist theology, a field of studies in which the historic and current insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology. Townes has a strong interest in thinking critically about womanist perspectives on issues such as health care, economic justice, poetry and literary theory.
She is the author of the groundbreaking book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil(Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2006). Other books include Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Care and A Womanist Ethic of Care (Continuum, 1998), In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness (Abingdon Press, 1995) and Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope (Scholars Press, 1993). She co-edited Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) with Katie Geneva Cannon and Angela D. Simms. In addition, Religion, Health, and Healing in African American Life (Praeger, 2008) was co-edited by Townes with Stephanie Y. Mitchem.
The ordained American Baptist clegywoman earned a doctorate in philosophy from the Joint Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary/Northwestern University Program in Religious and Theological Studies in 1989. She also received a doctorate in ministry from the University of Chicago in 1982. Previously, Townes earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees at the University of Chicago. She continues her research on women and health in the African diaspora in Brazil and the United States.
Townes currently serves as president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion (2012–2016). She was the first African American woman elected to the presidential line of the American Academy of Religion, which she led in 2008. Townes was inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.
In 2010 Townes was honored as Distinguished Religious Scholar by the Black Religious Scholars Group. She also received a Doctor of Human Letters from the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary that year. She has also received honorary doctorates from Washington and Jefferson College and Franklin College.


Pastor Rob Bell – What We Talk About When We Talk About God

March 14, 2013 welcomed Pastor Rob Bell to campus. Rob Bell, the Founding Pastor and Pastor Emeritus of Mars Hill Bible Church and author of “Love Wins”, “Velvet Elvis”, and “Sex God” came to Benton Chapel to speak for the first event of the new Chaplain’s Lecture Series. Mr. Belll spoke on his new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God.” Rob Bell graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Read the recap of the event here.


Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind

September 9, 2013 we will welcome Jonathan Haidt to Vanderbilt to be the second speaker for the new Chaplain’s Speaker Series. Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “height”) is a social psychologist at the NYU-Stern School of Business. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, and spent most of his career (1995-2011) at the University of Virginia. Haidt’s research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures. In recent years he has examined the moral cultures of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. Haidt is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis, and of the New York Times bestseller The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. To read about his upcoming talk, click here.


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