St. John’s College Brings World-Class Speakers to Annapolis for Fall Formal Lecture Series

Lectures and theatrical productions are free and open to the public

ANNAPOLIS, MD [August 22, 2023] — St. John’s College has announced its fall Formal Lecture Series. On Friday evenings, members of the St. John’s College community gather in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium to hear a lecture or performance from visiting scholars, artists, poets, or faculty. Lecturers include members of the St. John’s College faculty (known as tutors) and professors from notable universities across the country. Each lecture is followed by a question period and an engaging discussion between the lecturer and attendees.

“We are proud to bring world-class thought leaders to Annapolis,” says St. John’s College President Nora Demleitner. “I encourage all members of the community to join us for the lectures and performances this fall.”

All lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fridays at St. John’s College, Mellon Hall, Francis Scott Key Auditorium, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401. They are free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

“In the St. John’s classroom, students and faculty converse together about fundamental questions. In the Friday night lecture, we get to hear a longer account from someone who has thought deeply about the topic,” says dean of the college Susan Paalman. “The question period after each lecture is an important part, as it sparks a conversation amongst the whole community.”

The 2023 lectures are:

August 25: Annapolis Dean Susan Paalman will present the annual opening Christopher B. Nelson Lecture “On Parts and Wholes in Living Things: Harvey, Descartes, and the Heartbeat.”

“William Harvey and René Descartes famously disagreed in their accounts of what the heart is doing as it gives its characteristic beat. Both authors recognize that the heart alternates between squeezing and opening up. Harvey posits that the beat occurs as the heart squeezes closed while Descartes believes the beat happens as the heart opens up. Both have access to similar observations. How is it that they come to opposite conclusions? I’ll discuss how their differing views of how to think about living things likely play a role in this disagreement. I’ll examine what we have learned since their time about how the heart beats. Finally, given what we’ve learned, I’ll ask the question: What can we say about the nature of living things? ”

September 1: Paul Vasile, church musician, teacher, and composer, will deliver the lecture “Listen, Love, and Learn: The Formative Power of Singing without Paper.”

“We’ll explore practices of musicking rooted in the oral tradition and the ways they enrich and complexify how we interpret music from the page.”

September 8: Alvaro Enrigue, Mexican novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, will deliver the lecture, “a literary itinerary of sardonic humor in the Mexican tradition,” in coordination with the Mitchell Art Museum.

September 15: Daniel Carranza, assistant professor in the department of Germanic languages and literatures at Harvard University, will deliver the lecture “Vital Exuberance: Goethe on What Plants Want.”

“The lecture conducts a close reading of Goethe’s poem on the “Metamorphosis of Plants” by situating it within Goethe’s larger scientific endeavor to understand what it means for a being to be a specifically living being, in particular what the kind of wholeness exhibited by the organism, whether plant, animal, or human, looks like. Particular attention will be paid to the philosophical resources upon which Goethe draws in his scientific investigation of nature, in particular Aristotle’s four causes, the fourth, formal one of which is decisive for Goethe’s morphology or study of living forms, and Spinoza’s conatus, which Goethe understood as the organism’s own endeavor to persevere in and more fully realize its own being.”

September 22: Tutor Khafiz Kerimov will lecture on Ptolemy.

September 29: Robert Bartlett, Behrakis Professor in Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College, will deliver the lecture “Rhetoric and Democracy: Introduction to Aristotle’s Rhetoric.”

October 13-14: A special series of lectures will be held in honor of the college’s longest-serving faculty member and National Humanities Medal winner Eva Brann.

  • Friday, October 13, 8 p.m. Tutor Peter Kalkavage will present “Recollection” and tutor Eric Salem will present “Wonder.”
  • Saturday, October 14, 10 a.m. Tutor Joan Silver will present “Roots: of Living Things; of Inquiry; of a Friendship” and tutor Janet Dougherty will present “Liberal Imaginings.”

Tuesday, October 17, 7 p.m. Karl Walling will present his lecture “Political Science and Political Medicine: Thucydides, the Federalist, and American Grand Strategy.”

October 27: Tutor Ron Haflidson will deliver the lecture “What the heck is hell? Divine judgement in the Gospel of Matthew.”

“In this lecture, I explore the largely neglected and perhaps totally wrong possibility that when Jesus spoke about “hell,” he wasn’t talking about the afterlife. The inquiry proceeds by focusing on Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew (the New Testament text with by far the most references to hell). I will pursue the case that for Matthew’s Jesus, hell was an impending event within history, not a place some people go after they die. The lecture is divided into two parts: in the first, we consider the various ways that lead to hell; in the second, we examine the nature of hell itself.”

November 3: Kevin Kambo, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas will lecture on Plato’s Republic, about the fall of Kallipolis, and the noble lie.

November 17: Annapolis tutor Rebecca Goldner will deliver the lecture “Marcel Proust’s Turning of the Table.”

December 1: Enrique J. “Kiko” Galvez, chair and Charles A. Dana professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Colgate University, will present a lecture on physics.

December 8: St. John’s student-run theater troupe, the King William Players, will perform a classic theater production.

Visit Formal Lecture Series on the Annapolis Campus for more information and additional lecture details. To learn about other events at St. John’s College, see the Events Calendar.


St. John’s College is the most distinctive college in the country due to our interdisciplinary program, in which 200 of the most revolutionary great books from across 3,000 years of human thought are explored in student-driven, discussion-based classes. By probing world-changing ideas in literature, philosophy, mathematics, science, music, history, and more, students leave St. John’s with a foundation for success in such fields as law, government, research, STEM, media, and education. Located on two campuses in two historic state capitals—Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico—St. John’s is the third-oldest college in the United States and has been hailed as the “most forward-thinking, future-proof college in America” by Quartz and as a “high-achieving angel hovering over the landscape of American higher education” by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more at

MEDIA CONTACT: Sara Luell, Director of Communications, sara.luell(at)