Dean’s Lecture and Concert Series

2020–21 Academic Year Lectures

Lectures will be held virtually through 2020–21. They are free and available to the public and are followed by a question-and-answer period.

Information about access will be posted closer to the lecture date.

Recordings and transcripts of lectures are available on the SJC Digital Archives site. Access any of the Fall 2020 lectures on YouTube.

Please stay tuned for additional lectures for the Dean’s Lecture and Concert Series for the Spring 2021 semester.

2021 Spring Semester

Lecture Schedule for 2021 Spring Semester
Date Speaker/Event Topic
Friday
January 22, 2021
4:30 p.m. MT
Joseph C. Macfarland
St. John’s College, Annapolis
“Our Polity”
A lecture on the character of the college and on what unites and distinguishes St. John’s as a community dedicated to liberal education.
Friday
January 29
4:30 p.m. MT
Nicolas de Warren
Penn State University

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Annual Series on Literature.
“Atrocity Exhibition: Satan and Redemption in The Brothers Karamazov
Although Dostoevsky struggled with the problem of evil and forgiveness in many of his writings, my aim in this lecture is a discussion of evil and forgiveness in The Brothers Karamazov. Given the expansiveness of this novel, I shall focus on Ivan Karamazov, whose narrative of suffering and despair culminates in the denouement of his departure from the tribunal of reason and justice “crying something incoherent.” As with other characters in Dostoevsky’s novel, Ivan cannot be fathomed in isolation, and I shall be especially concerned with the conjunction of two “doublings”—Smerdyakov and the Satan—as clues for grasping the philosophical significance of Ivan’s crystallization of evil. I shall propose that Ivan Karamazov exemplifies what I call the spectral figure of an eclipsed subjectivity of evil. Within this Jankélévitchean-Schellingean configuration of evil (to indicate this conception’s philosophical genealogy), “the mystery of irreducible and inconceivable wickedness is, at the same time, stronger and weaker, weaker and stronger than love”—an implication I shall only be able to touch upon at the end of my discussion. In these reflections, I am presenting elements for a more comprehensive engagement with forgiveness and the unforgivable, animated by what André Malraux identifies in his “anti-memoires” Lazarus as the search for that crucial region in the soul where fraternity hangs in the balance / stands in conflict with absolute evil (je cherche la région cruciale de l'âme où le Mal absolu s'oppose à la fraternité).
Friday
February 5
4:30 p.m. MT
A Discussion with Claudia Hauer (Tutor, Santa Fe), Alison Chapman (Tutor, Santa Fe), and Zion Peart (A22), inspired by Strategic Humanism: Lessons on Leadership from the Ancient Greeks, Claudia Hauer, Political Animal Press, 2020 “What Thucydides and Homer Teach Us About Leadership Today”
In Strategic Humanism, St. John’s College tutor Claudia Hauer explores how Thucydides’ and Homer’s account of the problems of leadership remains relevant to us today. In the spirit of Mark Twain’s phrase, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but if often rhymes,” Hauer sounds out the “rhymes” between ancient Greek literature and our current era, examining themes in the classics that take on new meaning in light of contemporary events. The rise and fall of Greek democracy, as described by Thucydides, Homer, and Herodotus, reads differently in the context of our own nation’s wars, the rise of extremism, and the spread of misinformation. This discussion will focus on how conflict and violence continue to shape our need for and understanding of leadership, drawing out the timelessness of the ancients’ understanding of effective judgment as a reflection of a complete human being.
Friday
February 19
4:30 p.m. MT
John Cornell
This lecture is being offered as part of the Worrell Series on Literature.
“Dante, Philosopher-Prophet: A Reading of Paradiso V–VII”

Cantos V, VI, and VII in Dante’s Paradiso touch on central themes of medieval Catholic orthodoxy. But is this last canticle of the Divine Comedy just Dante’s staging of Church doctrine? A lot depends on who we think Beatrice (Dante’s guide in Paradise) is. Is she simply the romantic crush of the poet’s youth? Or is she a mature figure of Wisdom, like Sapientia, the eternal companion of God in the biblical books attributed to Solomon? Some of the comedy of the Comedy may be related to the fact that hardly anyone suspects Dante’s girlfriend of holding very independent views, let alone radical ideas about Church politics and theology. This talk will challenge that assumption and listen to what Dante and Beatrice are discussing over the heads of the saints and theologians.

Friday
February 26
4:30 p.m. MT
Kit Slover “Self-Consciousness in Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories: What do we Understand when we Understand?”
In the Preface to the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant confesses that the “Transcendental Deduction” of the categories is the section of his work that cost him the most effort to produce. In the centuries since its composition, it has cost his readers just as much—or even more—effort simply to understand. From its style of argumentation to its basic conclusions, this all-important chapter of the Critique remains one of the densest in the entire work. In this lecture, I will present a reading of the Deduction, hoping to make some sense of its fundamental claims and transcendental argument. I’ll focus my exposition around the activity of “apperception”—roughly synonymous with self-consciousness—contending that, for Kant, our cognition of the objective world around us always runs in important ways through our re cognition of ourselves in and through that world. Objects align with the concepts that make them what they are just by enabling us to become conscious of ourselves through our experience of them. After exploring the argument of the Deduction, I’ll attempt to make its claims more concrete by showing self-consciousness to consist in taking rational responsibility for one’s claims, beliefs, and actions—in the way Socrates tries to make us do. I will conclude the talk by using the Deduction to think about some of the most notorious questions surrounding Kant’s critical philosophy. How should we understand the so-called “thing-in-itself?” How, and in what sense, are human beings both free and constrained by causality? I think the Deduction has some unexpected answers. The target audience for this lecture is the junior class, who will be discussing Kant in seminar for the first time, but I hope it may also be of some interest to more seasoned readers of the Critique and students who have not yet read it.
Friday
March 5
4:30 p.m. MT
Charlotte Thomas
Executive Director, Association for Core Texts & Courses
“Nicias’s Virtue”

Thucydides gives a scathing account of Nicias’s failures in Sicily and then says, just before his awful death, that Nicias was least among the Hellenes to deserve such a fate because “the whole of his life had been ordered toward virtue.” In this essay, I try to think through what this eulogy means and whether or not Thucydides presents it as a compliment.

Charlotte Thomas is the Executive Director of the Association for Core Texts and Courses, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Great Books Program at Mercer University, and author of The Female Drama: The Philosophical Feminine in the Soul of Plato’s Republic. (Mercer University Press, 2019).
Friday
March 12
4:30 p.m. MT
Daryl Haggard
McGill University
“Observing Black Holes Large and Small”

It’s been a fantastic decade for black hole studies, highlighted by the 2017 and 2020 Nobel Prizes in Physics. Multiple Galactic Center research groups, the Event Horizon Telescope, and LIGO/Virgo continue to bring rapid new observations to sharpen our understanding of these exotic objects. I will discuss the unique variability of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, alongside other time domain phenomena in the Galactic Center, traced out over more than 20 years of observations from coordinated multi-wavelength campaigns. I will also briefly explore how we can continue to push the frontiers of black hole research with existing and next-generation observatories.


Daryl Haggard is an Associate Professor of Physics at McGill University in the McGill Space Institute and holds a Canada Research Chair in Multi-messenger Astrophysics.  She and her team study the Galactic Center and Sgr A*, electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave sources, accreting compact objects, and supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, using multi-wavelength and time domain surveys. She is also a proud alumna of St. John’s College Santa Fe where she earned her BA in 1995.
Friday
April 2
4:30 p.m. MT
Richard McCombs,
St. John’s College, Santa Fe

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Annual Series on Literature.
“George Eliot’s Modern St. Theresa”
One of the main themes of George Eliot’s Middlemarch is the kind of love that desires to help other people. Eliot describes her heroine, Dorothea, as “haunted” by “the idea of some active good within her reach.” This lecture examines how Dorothea’s desire for the good is purified, how she learns the art of helping, and how she uses this art. The second half of the lecture focuses on chapter 81 of Middlemarch, in which Dorothea attempts to “save” Tertius and Rosamond Lydgate, who are in danger of being overwhelmed by severe trials.
Friday
May 7
4:30 p.m. MT
Frank Pagano
St. John’s College, Santa Fe
This lecture is being offered as part of the Worrell Series on Literature.
“Father and Son Finn”
Stay tuned for Zoom link.
The lecture is a comparison of Huckleberry Finn to his father Pap Finn. Huck is the boy of compassion and Pap the man of resentment. Huck’s compassion is unsocialized. In civil society, compassion has been put in the service of socialization. Without this fellow feeling human community, or at least democratic society, would be impossible. Pap Finn seems to be his son’s opposite. He is an extreme racist and seems to have compassion for nobody. This lecture, however, is an inquiry into the degree to which the boy gives birth to the man. For Pap expects to be the recipient of compassion, and when he does not receive it, he is resentful.