Assembly Series fall schedule highlights power of the individual

Author Steven Galloway opens annual series Sept. 12

One individual can make a difference. That is the underlying theme of many of the speakers this fall for the Washington University in St. Louis annual Assembly Series.

Topics will cover politics, religion, science and the particular angst of graduate students, and also will center on individuals who reveal, either through fiction or by very real acts, ways in which ordinary citizens respond to calls for action.

This year’s schedule also includes a special presentation celebrating the centennial of the birth of Tennessee Williams — and the 75th anniversary of his matriculation as a student at Washington University — titled “Tennessee at 100: From Washington University to the Wider World.”

The Assembly series opens at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, in College Hall on the South 40 campus with Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, this year’s selection of WUSTL’s First Year Reading Program.

The Canadian author’s third novel is based on a real event that occurred in the beseiged eastern European city in the early 1990s as its citizens attempt to live their lives — and hold on to their humanity — under the daily threat of death.

The novel opens with the real-life story of 22 people who were murdered by snipers in full view of Vedran Smailovic, the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony. In response to the tragedy, Smailovic vows to play Albononi’s Adagio every day for 22 days at the site of the carnage.


Galloway takes this real-life act of courage — this insistence on imposing humanity upon an inhumane situation — and builds a rich fictional narrative around it. The cellist’s genuine act of sorrow and remembrance galvanizes many around him, especially three characters at the center of the novel, and inspires them to regain their strength and dignity.

Galloway’s appearance continues a period of discussion for the incoming students. His talk will include a reading from the novel, published in 2008, and a question-and-answer session.

Galloway attended the University College of Cariboo in Kamloops, British Columbia, as well as the University of British Columbia, where he teaches creative writing.

This lecture also is being presented by the First Year Reading Program and the First Year Center.

This, and all Assembly Series programs are free and open to the public. However, some events may have limited public seating.

The remaining schedule for fall 2011 follows; visit for changes and updates to the schedule. The website also includes parking information, ways to sign up for reminders and updates and other information sources about featured speakers.

The fall schedule

Panel Discussion, “Navigating a Post 9/11 World: A Decade of Lessons Learned” 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, Whitaker Hall Auditorium

At the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, three scholars look back on the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The panel will examine the way Americans struggle to balance the need for greater national security with our traditional ideals of civil liberty and religious freedom, especially as it relates to American Muslims.

Participants include:

  • Sahar Aziz, LLM, associate professor of law at Texas Wesleyan University and a legal fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, panelist;
  • John Bowen, PhD, the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, panelist;
  • Gulten Ilhan, professor of philosophy at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, panelist;
  • Ahmet Karamustafa, PhD, professor of history and of religious studies, both in Arts & Sciences, introduction; and
  • R. Marie Griffith, PhD, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics and the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, moderator.

The program will be presented by the Gephardt Institute for Public Policy and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics.

Jeremy Courtney, 5 p.m. Sept. 19, May Auditorium, Simon Hall

Until recently, being born with a congenital heart defect in Iraq meant a death sentence. In Kurdistan, whose citizens were the target of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare experiments, the disorders have been especially difficult to treat.

That’s no longer the case thanks to Courtney, who, with a handful of family and friends, runs the Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC). The PLC offers hope to children suffering from serious heart defects by bringing in surgical teams to perform operations and to train local medical staff.

Its main goals are two-fold: to eradicate the staggering backlog of children waiting for help and in doing so, begin to sow the seeds of trust and compassion that are desperately needed in this war-torn country.

This event is co-sponsored by the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Phi Lambda Psi.

Ellen Gustafson, “A New Understanding of Hunger, Obesity and the Food System” 4 p.m. Sept. 23, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom, Anheuser Busch Hall


“It is possible for every person to be an activist about food … we all have to eat.”

That quote sums up Gustafson’s belief that the serious problems of hunger and obesity can and must be solved. The former United Nations’ spokesperson for its World Food Program is using her skills to create real solutions, first with the FEED initiative, and now with the 30 Project.

Gustafson is raising funds for programs that benefit children in need of good nutritional food, and that educate people about the factors that contribute to the problem, such as political instability, most dramatically revealed by the recent droughts in Somalia.

This is an Olin Fellows Lecture.

Jorge Cham, “PhD, The Movie” 6 p.m. Sept. 26, Edison Theatre.

It might not be coincidental that Cham, a roboticist, became the “everyman” of graduate students. Through his popular online comics and now a film, he has captured the zeitgeist of a group that often feels soul-less and not in control of their lives.

Cham began his comic serial website, “Piled Higher and Deeper – Life (or the Lack Thereof)” in 1997 as a stress reliever while at Stanford University, and it quickly caught on. The site now registers more than 7 million visitors a year.

Piled Higher and Deeper – The Movie is a live action adaptation of the strip that follows four graduate students as they struggle to find balance between research and teaching, and their personal lives, with humor and heart.

The film will be shown first, followed by a discussion led by Cham.

Presented by the Graduate and Professional Council and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Henry I. Schvey, Phd, “Tennessee at 100: From Washington University to the Wider World” 7 p.m. Oct. 6 , Steinberg Hall Auditorium


In this centennial year of the birth of the great playwright Tennessee Williams (and the 75th anniversary of his admission to Washington University), the Assembly Series will give this former student his due with events that include a lecture by Henry I. Schvey, professor of drama and comparative literature in Arts & Sciences, whose scholarship of Williams’ life and work is widely recognized.

In his presentation, Schvey will discuss Williams’ formative years in St. Louis and at WUSTL and explore these influences on Williams’ work, as well as his place in the pantheon of modern American playwrights.

In addition to Schvey’s lecture, noted thespian Jeremy Lawrence will take on the mantle of Williams with two one-man shows, and WUSTL students will present a dramaturgical exploration of The Glass Menagerie. More information about these events can be found on the website of the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences,

Co-sponsored by the PAD, Thyrsus, the Center for Humanities, the departments of Comparative Literature and English in Arts & Sciences, and Washington University Libraries.

E.J. Dionne, “Can Religion and Politics Make Us More Civil and Not Just Angry?” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10, Graham Chapel


In books, essays, newspaper columns and commentaries on television and radio, Dionne analyzes and reports on American politics and its intersection with various aspects of society, especially religion.

From his first book, Why Americans Hate Politics, published in 1991, to his most recent, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, published in 2008, Dionne has demonstrated an ability for gauging political sentiment and forecasting political trends.

Currently, he believes the country is entering a period of governmental reform and renewed civic activism in our communities. More than 100 newspapers publish his Washington Post op-ed column, and he joins his conservative colleague David Brooks for a weekly commentary on NPR.

Presented by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics.

Richard Muller, PhD, 4 p.m. Oct. 19, Graham Chapel

Muller is a distinguished astrophysicist and teacher of one of the most popular classes at the University of California, Berkeley, “Physics for Future Presidents.”

He also is a consultant to various administrations on important policy decisions, and a committed advocate for immediate action to address the growing problem of man-made climate change.

Given that last characterization, many find it surprising that Muller is leading a group of scientists and statisticians to conduct an independent study to determine if the accepted wisdom of the scientific establishment is, in fact, the truth. The group launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project in 2009, using innovative techniques for measuring the Earth’s warmth, and has released preliminary results that have revived the debate over this controversial subject.

This is the Arthur Holly Compton Lecture.

Robert Putnam, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2, Graham Chapel


The author of the groundbreaking Bowling Alone, Putnam’s recent book examines the complex interaction of religion and politics in America over the past half-century and provides a nuanced balance sheet of how religion both contributes to and detracts from the vibrancy and stability of American democracy.

Presented by the Murray C. Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy; co-sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics, the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and the Brown School’s Center for Social Development a

David Rosen, Time TBA, Nov. 9, Graham Chapel

In his book, Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism, Rosen, an anthropologist and lawyer, takes a variant approach in examining the subject of children in conflicts through the twin lenses of law and culture, instead of the generally accepted psychological and humanitarian focus.

Without denying the terrible conditions imposed on many children who live in areas of armed conflict — many of whom are conscripted and forced to do unspeakable acts of violence — Rosen presents examples of youth playing important positive roles in past uprisings such as the Jewish resistance during World War II.

In doing so, he hopes to reveal how the current overly simplistic notion of a child (such as defining the line between child and adult by age) is not helping to combat a complex problem.

This is the Holocaust Memorial Lecture.

For more information on the Assembly Series, visit or call (314) 935-4620.