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Reading Tolkien and Living the Virtues

Reading Tolkien and Living the Virtues

Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar for College Teachers

Directed by Ralph C. Wood
University Professor of Theology and Literature

Baylor University, Waco, Texas

June 7 July 2, 2004

Pope John Paul II has rightly called ours a "culture of death." More people were killed by violent means during the 20th century than all of the preceding centuries combined- roughly 180 million. Ours is an age of blood. Yet it is exactly this world of unprecedented evil-of crematoria and gulags, of terrorist attacks and ethnic cleansings, of epidemic disease and mass starvation and material self-indulgence-that Tolkien's work addresses. While forcing us to face these horrors, he also suggests a cure for the ills of our epoch. His work-especially The Lord of the Rings-is imbued with profound moral and religious concerns. We will discover that it gives convincing imaginative life to the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, courage, temperance) as well as the three theological ones (faith, hope, charity).

For four weeks, the 12 participants in this seminar will engage Tolkien's major texts-from "The Monsters and the Critics" to "On Farie Stories," from "Leaf by Niggle" to The Hobbit, but chiefly The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. Our aim will be to demonstrate how Tolkien's work offers a fresh imaginative vision of the moral and religious life as it might yet be lived in the early 21st century.

The seminar will center on daily discussions and presentations, but there will also be trips-to a Benedictine monastery, to a Christian farming commune, and to nearby historic Scandinavian and Germanic villages-in order to examine the worlds which helped shaped Tolkien's imagination. The aim of the seminar is to enable the participants to acquire new and lively ways of integrating their Christian faith with their scholarly disciplines, so that they might employ Tolkien's work in their own teaching.

Participation is limited to faculty of institutions in the Lilly Fellows Program Network of Colleges and Universities. Participants will receive a $2500 stipend to cover the cost of affordable on-campus housing (including the option of family units) as well as meals. They should seek stipends from their own institutions, however, for travel expenses to and from the seminar. Applicants are welcomed from all of the liberal arts faculties, so long as they already possess a thorough knowledge of Tolkien. A letter of application, a curriculum vitae, two letters of reference-together with a two-page statement of the candidate's qualifications and reasons for wanting to participate in the seminar-should be received by March 15, 2004. Acceptances will be announced by April 15. Write to Ralph C. Wood, Lilly Summer Seminar Director, Box 97040, Baylor University, Waco, Texas 76798-7040.

Seminar Director

Ralph Wood (B.A., M.A., East Texas State University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Chicago) is University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University. His teaching and research commitments include Christian literary classics (especially the works of Dante, Herbert, Bunyan, and Hopkins), the Oxford Inklings, as well as 20th century theology and literature (especially Karl Barth and Flannery O'Connor). Before coming to Baylor, he taught for 26 years at Wake Forest University, where he won awards for distinguished teaching. He is the author of The Comedy of Redemption: Christian Faith and Comic Vision in Four American Novelists (University of Notre Dame Press) and, most recently, The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle Earth (Westminster John Knox).


Jane Chance, professor of English, teaches medieval literature, Medieval Studies, and Women and the Study of Gender at Rice University. A specialist in medieval mythography, she has published eighteen books, editions, and translations and edits three different book series. Among her books are Tolkien's Art: A Mythology for England (University Press of Kentucky) and The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power (Kentucky). She has also edited two collections, Tolkien the Medievalist (Routledge) and Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader (forthcoming, Kentucky). Her book Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, 433-1177 A.D. (University Press of Florida) won the SCMLA Best Book Prize of 1994. She has taught a course on Tolkien at Rice since 1976 and has been interviewed about him by the New York Times, Washington Post and NPR, among other public media.

Jeannette Marshall Denton, Assistant Professor of English and Linguistics and Coordinator of the Linguistics Program at Baylor University, received her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Chicago. Her general research interests include language change, Old English and other early Germanic languages, historical dialectology, and phonetics. Her current research has focused on consonant gemination, the effect of different articulations of /r/ on preceding vowels in early Germanic and American English dialects, and the Indo-European, Germanic, and Judeo-Christian linguistic and cultural origins of certain aspects of early Germanic poetic language. Recent articles and presentations include "Reconstructing the Articulation of Early Germanic *r", "The Regional, Social, and Phonetic Foundations of Malory's Dialect", and "Expressing Inner States and Ancestral Potential: Symbolism of the Hands in Early Germanic Poetry".

Thomas S. Hibbs (B.A., M.A., University of Dallas; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame) is dean of Baylor University's Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture. A specialist in medieval philosophy, ethics, and philosophy of popular culture, Prof. Hibbs has edited works of Augustine and Aquinas and authored two books on Aquinas, including Virtue's Splendor: Wisdom, Prudence, and the Good Life (Fordham University). He is also the author of Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld (Spence). Dr. Hibbs reviews films and writes about cultural issues for National Review Online and reviews books for The Weekly Standard. He has appeared on TV and radio, including a number of nationally syndicated NPR shows, to discuss film and popular culture.

David Lyle Jeffrey (B.A., Wheaton College; Ph.D., Princeton University) is provost and Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities at Baylor University. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1996. Named Inaugural Professor of the Year at the University of Ottawa in 1995, he has also been Guest Professor at Peking University (Beijing) since 1996. An expert in English literature, Jeffrey is also a gifted speaker and prolific writer. Besides being the general editor and co-author of A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Eerdmans), some of Dr. Jeffrey's other works include English Spirituality in the Age of Wesley (Eerdmans), English Spirituality in the Age of Wyclif (Regent College), People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture (Eerdmans), and, most recently, Houses of the Interpreter: Reading Scripture, Reading Culture (Baylor University Press).

This seminar was made possible through a grant from the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts and the sponsorship of the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning.