Geneva College’s Philosophy Program is hosting its fifth annual Bitar Memorial Lecture March 25-26. James K. A. Smith (Calvin College), this year’s Bitar Lecturer, is a philosopher contributing prolifically to current discussions in the interface of philosophy and theology, with a rapidly widening reputation.
Smith’s two-lecture series has as its over-arching title, “A Liturgical Phenomenology for a Post-Secular Age.” In description of his agenda in the talks, Smith comments: “According to Charles Taylor’s landmark book (A Secular Age (Harvard, 2007)), ours is a ‘secular age.’ However, others suggest that our postmodern age is (or should be) post-secular. In these lectures, I will explain why both are right. In order to make sense of our age, I argue that we need a new theoretical lens for considering culture, religion, and secularity. Instead of focusing on ‘belief,’ I will suggest that we need to focus on practices. More specifically, I will unpack how the lens of ‘liturgy’ or worship practices provides a better account both of religious faith and ‘secular’ culture. This is because, at root, humans are ‘liturgical animals.’”
In Lecture 1, “Being Secular Takes (Liturgical) Practice,” Smith will suggest “that our ‘secular age’ is deeply religious, even in its most secular corners and spaces. But this is not because culture is suffused with religious beliefs, but rather because it is rife with practices that function as ‘liturgies.’ In fact we have never inhabited a “secular” age in the sense of being “a-religious” precisely because, as liturgical animals, we are always already engaged in worship, in formative rituals of ultimate concern that shape our vision of the good life.
Lecture 2, entitled, “Liturgy as a Lens for Cultural Analysis,” “will unpack the notion of ‘secular liturgies’ through an analysis of formative public rituals that function religiously. In particular, we will consider how our nature as ‘liturgical animals’ is pictured in the work of supposedly ‘postmodern’ figures such as Cormac McCarthy, Nicholson Baker, and David Foster Wallace. We will then consider the implications of this new paradigm for social scientific research on religion in the public sphere, arguing that social scientific accounts of religion (and secularity) require a newly calibrated theoretical ‘radar’ that is attuned to practices rather than just cognitive beliefs.
The Bitar event also includes a dinner with the lecturers for faculty and invited guests from Geneva and other institutions, the announcement of the first annual Cash Prize for best student philosophy paper, an additional talk by Smith a Geneva faculty luncheon, a master class, for Geneva students, with Smith and Snell in dialogue. Available to the public will also be a book table selling Smith’s and Snell’s works, and a Book-Signing Dessert Reception hosted by the Lectures’ endowing families, the William Kriners and the family of Byron Bitar. Public events are being held in Skye Lounge, in the Student Recreation Center on the campus of Geneva College.