St. John’s College Brings World-Class Speakers to Santa Fe for Fall Dean’s Lecture and Concert Series

Lectures and theatrical productions are free and open to the public

SANTA FE, NM [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 Great Hall to hear a lecture or concert from visiting scholars, artists, poets, or faculty. Lecturers include members of the St. John’s College faculty (known as tutors) and professors from 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 Santa Fe,” says St. John’s College President Mark Roosevelt. “I encourage all members of the community to join us for the lectures and performances this fall.”

All lectures and concerts are held at 7:30 p.m. in the Great Hall at St. John’s College, 1160 Camino de Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe, NM 87505, unless otherwise noted. They are free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The lecture series supplements our discussion-based program. It gives members of the community the opportunity to consider sustained arguments from scholars of diverse backgrounds across a wide variety of disciplines,” says Dean of the College Sarah Davis. “Attendees are invited to engage directly with the lecturer in the question period that follows, which is an integral and dynamic part of the event.”

The 2023 lectures are:

August 25: Santa Fe Dean Sarah Davis will present the Dean’s Annual Opening Lecture, “A Timely Untimely Education.” This lecture will be held on the Meem Placita.

“‘I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity.’ Nietzsche opens ‘On 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 ‘On 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.

September 1: Santa Fe tutor Richard McCombs will deliver the lecture “On Play and Playfulness in Plato.”

September 8: Patrick Osteen will present a recitation of Homer’s Iliad, followed by a tutor panel with Santa Fe tutors Obed Lira, Andy Kingston, and Sarah Stickney. This event will be held at the Fish Pond Placita.

“In this retelling of Homer’s epic Iliad, a world-weary poet tells a wrenching, timeless tale of the Trojan War, of bravery, bloodshed, and the heat of battle.  Poetry and humor, tales of war, and the modern world all collide in this captivating theatrical experience shared by a single actor.

September 15: Ronn McFarlane and Carolyn Surrick will perform a concert.

“Both of these distinguished artists have been champions of their respective instruments for decades–McFarlane on lute and Surrick on viola da gamba. Both are compelling performers, consummate musicians, and both have immersed themselves in music from the Renaissance and Baroque, music from Ireland and Scotland, and also compose new works. Individually, they have been awarded, acclaimed, celebrated, and now finally, they have become musical partners in an extraordinary journey.”

September 22: “Making Sense of Artificial Intelligence” panel discussion with Santa Fe tutor David McDonald; student Benjamin Scott (SF25); and Curtis Johnson, research and development manager at Sandia National Laboratories.

“The public availability of chat-enabled AI tools has stirred apprehension, excitement, and speculation. Our three panelists (a tutor, a student, and an AI-practitioner alumnus) will provide starting points for a conversation with the audience about machine intelligence, what it is, what it is not, and the ramifications of its use. Among the interests of the panelists are: the problems surrounding tool-use, especially in the case of tools as poorly understood and as protean as AI; the limits of AI human-language interfaces for high-stakes applications; the possibilities for AI-assistance in creativity; the relation of generative AI to the original human works from which it derives; and the significance of ‘low-tech’ education in an era of increasing automation.”

September 29: Santa Fe tutor Lindsay Atnip will lecture on Wallace Stevens.

“After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” — So writes Wallace Stevens, a giant of American modernist poetry, in one of his aphoristic ‘adagia.’ In this lecture we will attempt to understand what he meant, or might have meant, in this odd and perhaps disturbing formulation. What is the role of poetry in our contemporary world, at turns banal and catastrophe-ridden? We will seek our answer through consideration of some of Stevens’ other prose writings and, of course, his poetryand maybe, if successful, find a little redemption.”

October 6: Ronna Burger, professor of philosophy at Tulane University, will speak about Plato’s Symposium and Genesis in the lecture “Man, Woman, and the Wholeness of the Human: A Biblical and a Platonic Account.”

“‘And God created Adam in His own image .…  male and female created He them.’ The primordial, androgynous human in Genesis 1 is subsequently divided into two partial beings, man and woman; their punishment for violating the first divine prohibition explains the reality of life as we know it. This biblical narrative has a remarkable resonance with a Platonic account—Aristophanes’ speech on eros in the Symposium: each of the original, whole humans who rebel against the gods is split by a divine punishment into two partial beings, always longing for their missing half.  What can we learn, from these parallel texts, about the understanding of the human condition in the two roots of the West, Jerusalem and Athens.”

October 20: Joshua Billings, professor of classics at Princeton University, will present the lecture “On Greek Tragedy.”

“The lecture will discuss the only surviving ancient tragic trilogy, Aeschylus’ Oresteia, as an example of the genre. It will discuss formal features of Attic tragedy and the genre’s historical development with an eye to understanding Aeschylus’ astonishing stagecraft and ambitious dramatic vision.”

October 27: Rahim AlHaj will perform a concert.

November 3: Fred Moten, professor in the departments of performance studies and comparative literature at New York University, will present the Andrew Steiner Memorial Lecture, “The Gorgias Nothings: Dickinson, Plato, and the Philosophical Blues.”

“We will conduct a paraphilological thought experiment in which we look for traces of Gorgias’ lost work, ‘On Nature or the Non-Existent,’ in the folds of Emily Dickinson’s envelopes. Perhaps our findings will provide some occasion to celebrate and cultivate the mystical, poetical, and sophistical field that causes (so much trouble for) philosophy.”

November 10: Carion Wind Quartet will perform a concert.

Saturday, November 11, 4 p.m.: Matt Donovan will present a poetry reading.

“For this poetry reading, Matt Donovan will be presenting work from The Dug-Up Gun Museum, a collection of poems and short prose that confronts our country’s obsession with firearms. Taking its title from an actual museum located in Wyoming, these poems aim to interrogate our country’s history of gun violence and ask questions about our fetishization of weapons, the normalization of mass shootings, and the multitudinous ways in which firearms are ingrained in our country’s imagination and culture. For this talk, he will read work from his collection, and also share stories of his wide-ranging travels to locations such as Cody, Cleveland, Las Vegas, and Sandy Hook.”

November 17: Annapolis Dean Susan Paalman will present the 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?”

December 1: Santa Fe tutor Jacques Duvoisin will lecture on Aristotle’s De Anima.

December 8: Jeffrey Stout, professor of religion at Princeton University, will present the lecture “Evils in Our Midst: A Close Reading of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943).”

“What is the movie about? Does the title contain an allusion? When is the story set? What film genres are at work and why? Why are there two Charlies? How did Uncle Charlie and his sister become so close? Why are there so many soldiers in town? What do the Freudian symbols and the biblical quotation mean? Was Hitchcock rejecting or affirming his Catholic upbringing and Jesuit schooling? Was he an amoralist or a moralist?”

Visit the Dean’s Lecture and Concert Series on the Santa Fe 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—Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Annapolis, Maryland—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

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