Guests on Volume 140
• MATTHEW RUBERY on the history of the “talking book,” and on how reading aloud differs from listening to it being read
• JAMES A. HERRICK on the “post-human” aspirations of the transhumanist movement, and how its plausibility is established by stories
• JACK BAKER and JEFFREY BILBRO on lessons that universities should heed from Wendell Berry’s essays, poetry, and fiction about commitment to living in a place
• TIMOTHY GLOEGE on the influence of business methods on twentieth-century evangelicalism through the shaping of Moody Bible Institute
• DAVID HOLLINGER on how the sons and daughters of mid-twentieth-century missionaries to Asia came back to the U.S. and influenced government, journalism, and the academy
• BARRETT FISHER on the themes of the challenge of faithfulness as presented in Shusaku Endo’s Silence and in Martin Scorsese’s film version
“I thought I was in a pretty good position to be able to answer questions about reading . . . but when I started this project, I really did have to go back to basics and, like you say, look up the definition of ‘reading’ and try to get a grasp of all the different senses of that word in order to answer the question of ‘what counts as actually reading a book?’”
— Matthew Rubery
Historian of reading practices Matthew Rubery argues that it is a false opposition to say that one reads a printed book but only listens to an audiobook. Instead, the two modes of reception are not so easily divided, for “orality” is present even when we read silently. When we ask the question of what “counts” as reading, Rubery observes, we are revealing an anxiety that simply wasn’t of concern to earlier generations and societies. While visual reading and aural or oral reading engage different senses, one is not necessarily inferior to the other, but both present an approach to reading that emphasizes and reveals different aspects of a text.
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James A. Herrick
“Mythos, or myth, precedes logos or precedes policy and research agendas . . . a lot of times the storytelling is seen as a kind of enhancement of its own type or a kind of additional activity, a peripheral activity, but I think it’s actually the foundational activity that leads to the policy decisions, that leads to the funding decisions.”
— James A. Herrick
Rhetoric and communications professor James Herrick observes how our stories about the future of humanity influence the kinds of questions and solutions that scientists search for. If we think, for instance, that there is nothing fixed about the human body, but that it is one step along the way in an evolutionary and technological process, then humanity as such can be manipulated, or dispensed with altogether, resulting in various movements towards transhumanism and posthumanism.
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Jack Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro
“You walk up to the farm and you can’t say of the farm: This is what I want from you; this is what I expect from you. You have to walk up to it and say “what do you need?” And I think if we can as a university look outside of our walls and say to our community not ‘this is what we want from you,’ but ‘what do you need?’ — I think that question is an important one — that if we practice that here, it’s a question students can then begin to imitate in their lives when they do leave this place.”
— Jack Baker
English professors Jack Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro join us to discuss the importance of place in thinking about higher education. Most institutions of higher learning have adopted economic models of growth, selling to their consumers greater opportunities for upward mobility. But because these models treat their students as abstractions, offering “better careers” also implies a lot of lateral and downward mobility, contributing to the crisis of dislocation present across society. Drawing from the works of Wendell Berry, Baker and Bilbro incorporate into their vision of higher education a multidimensional notion of place according to which universities can begin to craft “artisanal models” of higher education that take advantage of the unique skills and circumstances of their time, place, and community.
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“This is the story of the birth of non-denominationalism. In the nineteenth century, you were a Presbyterian and your theology was Presbyterian, and you operated within that sphere especially when it came to doctrinal issues. So those were the people that you trusted. You might cooperate with a Methodist in another sphere, but when it came to theology, it was a denominational church affair. When [Henry] Crowell came along, he helped create the means of a person understanding [oneself] as being a “conservative Protestant,” but not being necessarily associated with a denomination that was a respectable denomination.”
— Timothy Gloege
Historian Timothy Gloege recounts how the founder of Quaker Oats, Henry Crowell, used his business and marketing experience in order to create a brand of Christianity that could be “guaranteed pure” from the liberalizing forces of mid-twentieth-century mainline Christianity. During the search for a “mere Christianity,” many wealthy businessmen were instrumental in the publishing of The Fundamentals, a collection of theological treatises from which the Fundamentalist movement and Evangelicalism more broadly emerged.
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“The missionary cosmopolitans also provide this de-provincializing role; they also sort of cut America down to size by looking at it within a much broader compass, a broader range of experience and cultural content. But what the missionary cosmopolitans contribute is about Asia. . . . They then bring into American public life a sophistication . . . about Asian things that just wasn’t there before.”
— David Hollinger
Historian David Hollinger discusses the specific role that the children of missionaries to Asia played in mid-century American institutions. These “missionary cosmopolitans” shared a sense of responsibility for the world beyond the West and were influential in the development of foreign relations with Asia during WWII and later in the development of Asian studies programs in institutions of higher learning.
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“In films like Good Fellows and Mean Streets, often you have these older characters who serve as models or mentors in bringing the younger characters into the fold, often in this case, organized crime. But I think, more generally, because of Scorsese’s own upbringing where some of the Jesuits were really important models for him, I think he’s really struggling with the question of ‘how do we know what it means to be the kind of person we should be?’”
— Barrett Fisher
Humanities professor Barrett Fisher talks about the moral themes in the films of Martin Scorsese, particularly in his most recent film adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. Fisher also compares the fiction of Shusaku Endo with that of Graham Greene and the way in which Christianity was a set of “ill-fitting clothes” for Endo and arguably for Japanese culture more generally.