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Barbour gives inaugural lecture as Martin E. Marty Chair in Religion and the Academy
March 1, 2005
Professor of Religion John Barbour gave his first public lecture as the Martin E. Marty Chair in Religion and the Academy on March 1.
An author of four books and numerous essays, reviews and articles in literary and religious journals, Barbour spoke on "Tourist Traps and Guilt Trips: The Ethics of St. Olaf Abroad."
His talk began with an incident in Cairo while he was leading the St. Olaf Global Program, along with his wife, Associate Professor of Art and Art History Meg Ojala, in 2001. "This story leads to reflections on three ethical issues that arise in travel to other cultures," Barbour explains, "the tourist trap of anti-tourism, the experience of moral guilt when witnessing suffering and the feeling of disillusionment with another culture."
Barbour explored how certain travel narratives might help us understand these issues. He also reflected on the implications for off-campus programs -- for which St. Olaf is renowned -- and suggested how a Christian perspective might shape one's thinking about the challenges of travel.
In his role as the Martin E. Marty chair, Barbour helps to articulate the college's mission, which includes commitments to the liberal arts, the Christian tradition and a global perspective.
A member of the St. Olaf religion faculty since 1982 and chair of the religion department from 1998 to 2001, Barbour's teaching and research is focused on the ethical and theological issues raised by works of fiction and autobiography. In his newly appointed role, Barbour intends to explore two themes that build on this expertise.
"Through a focus on travel narratives, I will reflect on the religious dimensions of journeys, including those of students in the college's off-campus programs," Barbour says. "And by examining family memoirs, I will write about how a sense of vocation is shaped in the context of a person's family." In these ways, Barbour hopes to address religious and ethical issues in American life, and to develop a Christian interpretation of these themes.
The chair honors Dr. Martin E. Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago where he taught for 35 years. In addition to serving as Interim President and Senior Regent at St. Olaf College, Marty has been president of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History and the American Catholic Historical Association. An ordained Lutheran minister, Marty has been awarded the National Humanities Medal, the National Book Award, the Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Order of Lincoln Medallion (Illinois' top honor), and 70 honorary doctorates.
"I have admired the work of Professor Barbour for many years," says Marty. "He knows how to see many disciplines through the prism offered by church, religion and spirituality, and does his looking without narrowing the subject or stifling the spirit. I was honored to learn of this chair and am even more honored to have my name associated in the background with his in this first appointment."
Barbour grew up in Northfield, was educated at Oberlin College and the University of Chicago Divinity School where he received his Ph. D. in religion and literature. He has published extensively in the areas of religion, literature and ethics, including "Tragedy as a Critique of Virtue: The Novel and Ethical Reflection," "The Conscience of the Autobiographer: Ethical and Religious Dimensions of Autobiography," and "The Value of Solitude: The Ethics and Spirituality of Aloneness in Autobiography," which was published in 2004 by the University of Virginia Press.
Barbour has served St. Olaf in a number of leadership capacities and is active in his congregation, the First United Church of Christ in Northfield. He and Ojala have two sons.