From the President

Column by Thomas M. Becker

Welcome to Week Eight of the 2014 Chautauqua season. Our lecture platforms are built around the theme of “Global Public Square,” with the afternoon lectures taking that theme into the world’s religions. Indeed, nearly every element of our offerings brings expression to the global reach of this institution.

Beyond the startling heft of the morning and afternoon lecture lineups, our worship services and our Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle featured author make their own statement on this point.

The Rev. Allan Boesak, director of the Desmond Tutu Center at Butler University, and Christian Theological Seminary (a joint appointment), is a theologian, an activist and a cleric. He was born in South Africa in 1945, where, in addition to his religious duties he was also a politician and anti-apartheid leader. He wrote a book, Running with Horses: Reflections of an Accidental Politician. He has served as the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

In 2008, he shook the United Reform Church in Southern Africa by emphatically declaring the Church’s obligation to welcome people of all sexual orientation. He had presaged the South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruling that such discrimination violated the constitution. And he has been an outspoken critic of President Mugabe’s policies and practices in Zimbabwe. (During last week’s CLSC graduation ceremonies in the Hall of Christ, 24 of the graduates were Zimbabweans.) Boesak has a longstanding friendship with Joan Brown Campbell, retired director of Chautauqua’s Department of Religion. He can be found at 10:45 a.m. Sunday in the Amp and at 9:15 a.m. through the week in that same location.

At 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy, John Colman Wood will discuss his remarkable novel, The Names of Things. Wood teaches at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. He has been a journalist and is an anthropologist. His fiction has twice won the Ethnographic Fiction Prize from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

The novel is set in northern Kenya in the Chalbi Desert and among the nomadic Dasse people. This is a spare novel that traverses an unfolding understanding of a tribal people through the acquisition of words — the names of things. He skillfully moves you through time so as to explore the facts and the quest for understanding of his wife’s death and his own ragged emotional landscape in the wake of that death. He is engaged in a dig for the evidence of the truth of his life. This is a powerful, deeply human work that has the riveting pace of a great mystery.

These two program elements combine with the stunning talent of the morning and afternoon lectures, whose task it will be to take you around the world to see important issues and developments and the consequences of these events. The importance of geography; climate; armed conflict; emergent democracy; role of women; rule of law; trade; economic development; religious tradition, strictures and conflicts; and journalism. These are but a few of the topics that will play out during the week. Each of our guides will also consider the role and interests of the United States in the region and the unfolding events.

If we are successful this week, you will not only learn something about these global points of focus, you will also be invited into a deeper understanding of the human condition as expressed in these areas and the connection of that condition to your own.

Welcome to Chautauqua’s public square.