Drawing hundreds to his lecture at the Colleges, distinguished scholar and bestselling author James Carroll was cordially welcomed to campus this week as the invited guest speaker of the inaugural Max and Marian Farash Community Lecture.
Carroll, who has spent a substantial portion of his career devoted to exploring, understanding, and writing at the crossroads of religion, history, and society, delivered a thought-provoking address, one that furthered the intellectual dialogue that is at the core of the lectureship.
“James Carroll is a public intellectual who has thought carefully and written beautifully about critical issues of our time,” said President Mark D. Gearan during his opening remarks that evening in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center. “Mr. Carroll is a prolific author who has been honored with prizes and recognition for his work, which credits its clarity, as well as his many insights.”
Carroll’s visit and lectureship, Gearan said, was made possible by the generous support of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, a Rochester-based philanthropic organization that values education and entrepreneurship and has deep consideration for religious and civic communities. Efforts to commence the lecture series also included collaboration amongst the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, the Religious Life Office, the Religious Studies Department, and the Office of the President.
Titled “No War is Holy: Saying No to God-sanction Violence,” Carroll’s lecture aimed to underscore the multifarious relationships amongst the world’s three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Particularly through the lenses of conflict and peace, Carroll anchored the three faiths to the ancient city of Jerusalem, a holy space for followers of each respective belief.
Despite fervent and continued conflict across the globe and over the centuries, Carroll said no one religion has enveloped the others.
“Each of the three-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-survived,” Carroll said. “They did not replace each other, and now they live on as siblings and their rivalry often has been violent bringing out the worst of these traditions, and Jerusalem has been the site and symbol of it.”
Carroll reiterated the city’s implicit and explicit connections to violence carried out in the name of religion, as well as its inherent ties to the history of the United States of America and the religiosity that stirs hope and often disagreement across the nation.
“Famously, the epicenter of the joint hopes of the three religions and their aspirations for the world, Jerusalem has represented the best dream of the human future,” Carroll said. “It is the place where the believers understanding of god evolved and our tradition at least of the West, they feel closest to god. It also is the locus of their rivalry.”
Courtney Franceschi ’16, the Farash Scholar of the Colleges, who attended the lecture with Farash scholars from neighboring colleges and universities, said the presentation and the community lecture series was a tremendous opportunity not only for the HWS community, but for all those in attendance.
“It was wonderful for the Colleges and the Foundation to bring to campus a renowned speaker such as James Carroll,” Franceschi said.
Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski, one of the faculty members who helped facilitate Carroll’s visit to campus, said that the esteemed author’s presentation sparked an important dialogue that is continuing to take place on campus.
“James Carroll’s visit gave our campus the opportunity to interact with one of the most creative and important public intellectuals writing today,” Dobkowski said. “His lecture was a sweeping and powerful reflection on the intersection of violence and religion throughout history, on how violence has been understood as a source of meaning and valor and how it has been sanctified as sacrifice and atonement, even in the United States. In laying out the history of sacred violence, overwhelmingly defined by mistakes and tragedy, he also pointed to the hubris of modern thought that somehow claims we are protected now from these tendencies.”
A noted scholar, Carroll who has an extensive list of acclaimed published works, including “Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World,” also engaged the audience during a question and answer session that covered a range of related subjects on religion and society.
Carroll, who received B.A. and M.A. degrees from St. Paul’s College, the Paulist Fathers’ seminary in Washington, D.C. joined the Catholic priesthood in 1969. After leaving the priesthood in the 1970s, he dedicated himself to pursuits in writing and scholarship.
His works include “An American Requiem,” which won the National Book Award; The New York Times bestselling “Constantine’s Sword,” which now is an acclaimed documentary; and “House of War,” winner of the first PEN-Galbraith Award. In 2012, he contributed to one of two introductions to “Vatican II: The Essential Texts.”