Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


February 5, 2001

Witte to examine positive
side of marriage

By Eric Rangus

Divorce rates, the number of children born to unwed mothers and the frequency of broken homes all rose in the latter half of the 20th century.

With those statistics in mind, a discussion charting the bleak downturn of marriage, the traditional family and society in general would be simple.

But that’s not what John Witte intends to do.

“An Apt and Cheerful Conversation on Marriage” is the title Witte chose for the sixth Distinguished Faculty Lecture, which he will deliver Feb. 7 at 4:15 p.m. in the new Nursing School auditorium.
But just because Witte intends to explore the positive side of marriage, that doesn’t mean he will be overly flowery about it.

“To be ‘apt,’ the conversation cannot wax nostalgic about a prior golden age of marriage, nor wax myopic about modern ideals of liberty, privacy and autonomy,” he said. “To be ‘cheerful,’ the conversation must proceed with the faith that the crisis of modern American marriage and family life can be overcome.”

The title of Witte’s lecture is borrowed from a work by 17th century British poet and author John Milton, ironically titled, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Milton wrote, “the apt and cheerful conversation of man with woman is the chief and noblest purpose of marriage.”

Witte, the Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics, said he will give a historical overview of marriage from a theological viewpoint and will conclude that, despite all its problems, the institution of marriage will survive.

“What brings cheer is that the Western tradition of marriage has always found the resources to heal and reinvent itself,” he said.

An expert on family law, legal history, the First Amend-ment and comparative religious liberty, Witte has written 12 books, his latest being Religion and the American Consti-tutional Experiment, published last year. Witte is director of the Law and Religion program and the first director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Witte served as a research associate in legal history at Emory until 1986 and was named director of the Law and Religion program—a position he still holds—in 1987.

Witte was named assistant professor of law in 1989, promoted to associate professor in 1991 and to full professor in 1993.

The title of Robitscher Professor was added to his resume in 1994, and in 2000, when the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion was created, Witte became its first director.

“This is quite a blessing and a challenge,” Witte said at the time of his selection.
Distinguished faculty lecturers are selected by the Faculty Council, which chooses the speaker from a submitted list of nominees.

The council’s Distinguished Faculty Lectureship Committee, made up of the previous five speakers and chaired by Claire Sterk, gathers nominations from faculty members, evaluates them and makes a recommendation to the council, which then votes for a potential speaker.

Witte is the sixth distinguished faculty lecturer and the first from the law school. Last year, Reynaldo Martorell delivered a lecture titled, “Child Nutrition and the Wealth of Nations.”


Back to Emory Report Feb. 5, 2001