February 5, 2001
Witte to examine positive
side of marriage
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
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 thats 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.
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 Wittes 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
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 programa position he still holdsin
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.
The councils 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.