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February 4, 2002

Forum examines terror, humanities

By Eric Rangus


Terror’s many complicated aspects will be examined from a variety of angles at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry’s (CHI) spring forum, “The Humanities and Terror,” to be held Thursday, Feb. 6 in Cox Hall.

The centerpiece of the event will be eight simultaneous focus groups that will examine terror through a wide range of humanistic filters, such as how terror is discussed both in speech and in literature, and how “terror” and “violence” are related.

Leading the focus groups will be a diverse array of Emory College faculty members: Comparative literature’s David Bright (The Paradox of Aesthetic Terror), Spanish’s Maria Mercedes Carrion (Engendering Terror), Russian’s Alan Cienki (Speaking of Terror), music’s Steve Everett (Representation of Terror), philosophy’s Tom Flynn (Hell is Other People: Existentialism and Violence), English and women’s studies’ Frances Smith Foster (Silence: Terror), religion’s Laurie Patton (Divine Love and Holy Terror: Religious Devotion and the Two Faces of Fear) and English’s Ron Schuchard (The Universality of Terror).

The vast majority of the attendees are faculty members themselves.

“We wanted to pull together a wide range of faculty who would bring up the idea of humanistic inquiry,” said CHI program assistant Keith Anthony.

“What we’re looking to do is not necessarily provide answers, but rather to proved a framework for answering the many questions being asked,” Anthony said. “With a topic this broad it’s hard to come up with simple solutions.”

The forum’s format will be rather straightforward. It will begin with brief social time, followed by a welcome from CHI director Martine Watson Brownley, Goodrich C. White Professor of English, and Emory College interim Dean Bobby Paul at 5 p.m. Attendees will then break into focus groups, each consisting of a moderating professor and approximately eight participants. The focus groups will run about 90 minutes to be followed by dinner at 6:30.

After dinner, the focus groups will be shuffled and reconvened with new sets of participants.

Several of the focus groups are interrelated. For instance, Schuchard’s “Universality of Terror” will examine how the fear of terror permeates most every aspect of life, from work to travel to simply opening the mail. One of that group’s focuses will be religion—which is also a main component of Patton’s discussion group on “Religious Devotion and the Two Faces of Fear.”

Another goal of the forum is to bring fresh perspectives into the discussion of terror. Liter-ature, art and music are not the first disciplines that come to mind when discussing terrorism, but Everett’s focus group will do just that.

Dante’s Divine Comedy, for instance gave its medieval readers their first idea of what hell could be like, and its fiery images remain strong today. Prior to its publication, hell was an abstraction, Everett said.

“By creating a representation, we can comprehend the horror of something terrible even though we aren’t going through it ourselves,” Everett said. “Art can provide an empathic understanding.”

The spring forum is CHI’s first campus event. The center was created last fall but will not open officially until fall 2002. Spearheading the CHI’s creation was a committee of college faculty who outlined the structure of the center as it now exists. That committee also chose as Brownley as director. Each of the professors leading focus groups sits on the center’s current executive board.

A few slots remain open for people interested in participating. For more information or to reserve a place, contact CHI at 404-727-6424, or refer to its website at