Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wanted: Good Lecturers

One of the fun aspects of my job at UTC is being able to organize the LeRoy Martin Distinguished Lecturer Series. Admittedly though, it is a lot of work. I organize the entire lecture series, and, with the help of our department secretary, schedule the lecture hall, arrange for hotel accommodations, provide airport pickups, schedule a formal dinner, work with the bookstore on stocking up on the most current publications that the speaker has written, and usually introduce the lecturer. I can definitely say, however, that the benefits outweigh the challenges of my responsibilities. It has been a delight to meet many of my favorite authors in person and hear them deliver superb lectures.

During my first year at UTC I brought six people to campus: David Bebbington on "The King James Bible in Britain from the Late 18th Century" on 11/7/2011, Bruce Gordon on "Scripture and Church: Calvin, Servetus and Castellio" on 1/19/2012, Gerald McDermott on "Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening, and the Future of Global Christianity" on 2/14/2012, Thomas Kidd on "Patrick Henry, the Great Awakening, and the Rise of Religious Liberty in Revolutionary Virginia" on 2/15/2012, Catherine Brekus, "Sarah Osborn's World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America" on 2/16/2012 (McDermott, Kidd, and Brekus were part of a sub-series on religion at the time of the Great Awakening), and Grant Wacker on "Billy Graham and the Shaping of Modern America" on 3/1/2012.

Last year I brought four speakers to UTC: D.G. Hart on "What Makes the Religious Right Different from Political Islam?" on 9/27/2012, John Fea on "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" on 10/9/2012, Amanda Porterfield on "Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation" on 11/8/2012, and Philip Jenkins on "The Coming of Global Christianity" on 2/20/2013.

All of these people did a great job, and I thoroughly enjoyed their lectures. The lectures averaged between 100 - 200 people, and so I was also pleased with the turnouts. But this year I am rethinking the format of the LeRoy Martin lecture series. So far, I have scheduled two speakers for the fall, with an open slot for the spring of 2014. Ed Blum comes on 9/19/2013 to speak on "Satan Was the First Secessionist: Devil Talk and the American Civil War." This will be in a traditional format, with a lecture at 5:30pm in a UTC auditorium, followed by a dinner with some of the faculty. For the second speaker, Oliver Crisp, who will be speaking on Jonathan Edwards's thought on 10/29/2013, I chose to partner with Cole Hamilton, who runs the "Theology on Tap" lecture series at the Camp House on the Southside of Chattanooga. At a Theology on Tap lecture, the audience can listen to a speaker while sitting at small tables with friends and enjoying gourmet coffee or craft beer. The turnout for these talks have been unbelievable, with sometimes 200 people made up of twenty or thirty-year-olds. I may partner with Theology on Tap more often in the future since this format is much cheaper (in terms of the cost of advertising) and a more relaxed environment.

After enjoying talks by a number of excellent speakers, I am wondering who to invite next. Perhaps you can help me. My challenge is to find someone who fulfills two main objectives: 1) He/She is an excellent scholar, and 2) He/She is a good speaker. Ideally, I want to invite a diverse group of speakers to talk on a variety of subjects related to religion so that the Chattanooga community benefits from the expertise of these scholars. As a religious studies scholar who is interested mostly in religious history and thought, I have a noticeable bias when looking at the people who I have selected so far. I am therefore open to suggestions for speakers outside my expertise.

Given the two main criteria that I have for the lecture series, who would you recommend as a public lecturer? Who is an excellent religious scholar and a good speaker? I would love to hear your ideas.

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