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Baylor profs travel to, lecture at Notre Dame

Nov. 10, 2004

By SKO EMBRY, reporter

Dr. Ralph Wood, Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, and Dr. Thomas Hibbs will present papers exploring the link between art, culture and religious life at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture's Nov. 18-20 conference, "Epiphanies of Beauty: The Arts in a Post-Christian Culture."

"These folks are going to be fantastic additions to the program," Dan McInerny, associate director of the center for ethics and culture, said.

According to McInerny, the Baylor professors have "offered superb critiques on culture."

Wood, professor of English, will speak on "J.R.R. Tolkien: Our Post-Modern Contemporary."

"Tolkien rejects the modern notion that we can stand outside history, viewing the world from a neutral stance, choosing for our autonomous selves whatever we take to be truth," Wood said.

According to Wood, Tolkien "is convinced that much evil has been committed in the name of such alleged neutrality."

Instead of accepting the view of moral neutrality, Tolkien "takes seriously the radically historical and limited character of our existence by setting us right down in Middle-Earth."

Wood will argue in his paper that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings doesn't merely create a fictional world "where all was once well until invaded by modern forces." Instead, it gives "fictional life to the real good and to the real evil that we confront in our own world and in our own lives," Wood said.

Wood said he thinks of his paper as a contribution to the conference's theme of art bearing on the moral life.

"I will seek to show that Tolkien's work contributes mightily to the culture of life amidst a culture of death," he said.

Jeffrey will present on "Epiphanies, Beauty and a Father's Love."

He will reflect on three poems to show the way that "poets have come back to the idea of the father and the father's love."

According to Jeffrey, this is a complete shift from the early 20th century view that "fathers were a symbol for all that was ugly, against which one must rebel."

Jeffrey said the Catholic philosophical tradition has recognized a link between beauty in relation to the good and as a characteristic of God. "This theological reflection provides an opportunity to relate aesthetics to ethics," Jeffrey said, adding, "There are good, solid reasons in Christian thought to take these two characteristics of the human mind [aesthetics and ethics] and put them together."

Hibbs, dean of the honors college, will present on "Chance or Providence? Kieslowski, God, and Contemporary Film."

According to McInerny, the Center for Ethics and Culture aims to defend the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition.

The conference will explore "the positive role the imagination plays in our moral and political environment," McInerny said.

"We're taking as a given that the culture we're living in is at very least in jeopardy of not living according to Christian order," McInerny said.

"The conference is both trying to make a diagnosis of our cultural ills as well as looking for remedies for those ills," McInerny said.