St. John’s College Brings World-Class Speakers to Annapolis for Spring Formal Lecture and Concert Series
ANNAPOLIS, MD [January 15, 2024] — St. John’s College has announced its spring 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 and major musicians 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 spring.”
All lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays at St. John’s College, Mellon Hall, Francis Scott Key Auditorium, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401, unless otherwise noted. Lectures 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 2024 spring lectures are:
- January 19: The vocal quartet New York Polyphony will perform a concert at 8 p.m.
Praised for a “rich, natural sound that’s larger and more complex than the sum of its parts,” (NPR) New York Polyphony is one of the foremost vocal chamber ensembles active today. The four men, “singers of superb musicianship and vocal allure,” (The New Yorker) give a vibrant, modern voice to repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to cutting-edge compositions. The concert is entitled, “The Undone Heart.” Texts range from ancient Japanese poetry to the Song of Songs to recent verse. Composers include William Byrd, Orlando di Lasso, Schubert, Bruckner and recent pieces expressly written for New York Polyphony.
- January 26: Tutor Patricia Locke will deliver the National Endowment for the Humanities lecture titled “Hair, Clothes, Brush: On Becoming Human in The Tale of Genji.”
- February 9: Leslie Kay (SF83), of the University of Chicago Department of Psychology and Institute for Mind and Biology and member of the St. John’s Board of Visitors and Governors, will deliver “Are brains computers? A smelly challenge to assumptions.”
Modern discussions about brain function focus on a computational metaphor, in which a brain is the substance in which information from the world is subject to computation. I will discuss how the sense of smell and the brain circuits which support this enigmatic perceptual stance challenge our notions of brain function, memory, and computation.
- February 16: Alexandra Horowitz, Senior Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor at Barnard College, will deliver the Andrew Steiner Memorial Lecture, “The science and nature of dogs: From umwelt to pet.”
As familiar a figure as the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, is, it is only in the last two decades that science has turned its gaze to the dog. In this lecture I give a necessarily pithy survey of the field of dog cognition, with emphasis on research which enables us to imagine the umwelt of a dog: to begin to answer the question, after Nagel, What is it like to be a dog? I then discuss the dog’s status in contemporary society and as a legal object.
- February 23: Tutor Dan Harell will deliver “Being a Book.”
At St. John’s there are certain books we read, books we claim to be important to our endeavor; and we argue for this importance in terms of what makes the books great. But what makes them books, I have come to think, is more central to our experience of reading them, discussing them, and learning from them. And I wrote this lecture in the attempt to clarify this thought. My hope — despite the St. John’s frame I use here — is that the lecture will be of interest to any reader of books, even if it fails, by my lights, to make sense of a book.
- March 22: Thornton Lockwood, Professor of Philosophy at Quinnipiac University, will present his lecture on Aristotle’s Politics.
- March 29: Tutor Gregory Freeman will present his lecture “The value of suffering.”
In the lecture, I will begin with an old question: why do we find pleasure in seeing bad things in artworks? This question leads to the larger question: what is the value of suffering? Among other texts, I will discuss the 2016 film Manchester by the Sea, and the Book of Job.
- Wednesday, April 3: Ambassador Roger D. Carstens will deliver the Erik S. Kristensen Memorial Lecture, held in partnership with the U.S. Naval Academy. Carstens is the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, and an alum of the St. John’s College Graduate Institute.
- April 12: Santa Fe Dean Sarah Davis will deliver her lecture, “An Untimely Timely Education.”
“I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity.” Nietzsche opens “The Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life” with this quote from Goethe. It appropriately frames Nietzsche’s own meditation, which does not just walk us through different ways to relate to the past, giving us a schema for making sense of history, but invigorates and leads to a quickening within us. But how?This lecture investigates Nietzsche’s claim that the “excess of history” in modern times compromises the health and vitality of human life. It then considers “The Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life” itself as presenting an alternative way to relate to history. Finally, it asks how, if at all, this alternative informs a St. John’s education.
- Wednesday, April 17: Panel Discussion: The Legacy of Francis Scott Key, Class of 1797
This panel event organized by the College History Task Force will discuss the complicated legacy of Francis Scott Key, one of St. John’s College’s most notable alumni. Panelists include Professor Marc Clague, author of “O Say Can You Hear?”, Marc Leepson, author of “What So Proudly We Hailed,” and Professor William Thomas, author of “A Question of Freedom,” and will be moderated by Chanel Compton, Executive Director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum.
- April 19: The Parker String Quartet will perform a concert.
Internationally recognized for their “fearless, yet probingly beautiful” (The Strad) performances, the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet has rapidly distinguished itself as one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation, dedicated purely to the sound and depth of their music. Inspired performances and exceptional musicianship are hallmarks of the Quartet, having appeared at the world’s most illustrious venues since its founding in 2002. The Quartet’s program will include Beethoven Op.135 and Hayden Op. 33/6.
- April 26: St. John’s student-run theater troupe, the King William Players, will perform Moby Dick.
ABOUT ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE
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 sjc.edu.
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