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March 18, 2002

Saliers to speak on life's contrasts, March 21

By Eric Rangus


Don Saliers, William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, will deliver the seventh annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture, Thursday, March 21, at 4 p.m. in the Dobbs Center’s Winship Ballroom.

Saliers’ lecture, “Where Beauty and Terror Lie: The Poetics of Everyday Life,” will address what he calls “humanity at full stretch.” Looking at the work of poets, theologians and philosophers from centuries ago up to the present time, Saliers will attempt to shed some light on a world in which light cannot exist without dark, and evil invariably accompanies good.

“I’m interested in how we as human beings cope with the contrasts that life throws at us,” Saliers said. “I’m particularly mindful of how we make sense of a world that is wondrously beautiful yet so full of terrifying things.”

Saliers said he plans to reference not only the work of modern theologians like Hans Urs von Balthazar, but early 20th century thinkers like Simone Weil and 19th century intellectuals like the Irish poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The work of these three people, along with that of others like them, Saliers said, laid the groundwork for the idea that life is filled with contrasts.

“Thinkers and poets have always pointed us in the direction of fully embracing the whole range [of emotions],” Saliers said.

Saliers has taught in the Candler School of Theology since 1975. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University and graduated with a bachelor’s of divinity degree and a Ph.D. from Yale. He also studied at Cambridge University under a Fulbright Scholarship. Saliers is author or co-author of more than a dozen books and scores of articles. In 1999, he received a University Scholar-Teacher Award.

His most recent books are The Conversation Matters: Why United Methodists Should Talk With One Another, cowritten with Henry Knight in 1999, and 1998’s Human Disability and the Service of God: Reassessing Religious Practice, co-written with Nancy Eiesland, assistant professor of the sociology of religion.

Saliers is director of Emory’s Master of Sacred Music degree program and chair of the theological studies department in the Graduate Division of Religion. His areas of expertise are Christian theology and human ritual with a strong emphasis on liturgical studies and sacred music. Much of Saliers’ work deals with “the formation of the human heart,” he said.

“I look at language and human emotions,” he said. “And a lot of that will show up in the lecture.”

Distinguished Faculty lecturers are selected by the Faculty Council from a submitted list of nominees. The council’s distinguished faculty lectureship committee, made up of five previous speakers and chaired by the School of Medicine’s William Branch, gathers nominations from faculty members, evaluates them and makes a recommendation to the full council, which then chooses the speaker.

“I’m absolutely humbled by this,” Saliers said of his selection as Distinguished Faculty lecturer. “This University has a lot of smart cookies and very brilliant minds. To be named is an honor and not one I take lightly. I hope I can bring some of the features of my discipline and apply them to the whole of Emory.”

Last year’s Distinguished Faculty lecturer was John Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics, who led “An Apt and Cheerful Conversation on Marriage.”

The Distinguished Faculty Lecture is free and open to the public.