Announcing Washington University’s Spring 2014 Assembly Series

Reflections on the series at 60

The Washington University in St. Louis Assembly Series turned 60 in 2013, and to mark such an august occasion, it’s fitting to remember why the lecture series was conceived in the first place. The Assembly Series launched during the institution’s centennial celebration in 1953 as a way to involve the broader St. Louis community in the robust intellectual life on campus.

Back then and through much of its history, Assembly Series programs could be enjoyed only by physically attending them, always at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays in Graham Chapel on the Danforth Campus. Sixty years hence, and for a number of reasons, the programs are no longer tethered to a set time or place. The change means a lost tradition, but it allows more members of the community and campus to attend programs. And if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you may be able to watch or listen to it later on the Assembly Series website, or stream it live. (Recordings are posted online if speakers permit.)

Much has changed in the delivery of Assembly Series programs, but the mission has not: to bring some of the most vital and compelling voices of the day here for the enlightenment of WUSTL students, faculty and staff on campus, and to share these experiences with the broader St. Louis community. Today, that audience has been broadened immeasurably, and WUSTL can share much of this rich and diverse intellectual environment with the wider world.

It’s also fitting that the spring 2014 lecture series begins and concludes with WUSTL faculty members. It serves as a reminder of how fortunate campus community members are to live, study and work with some of the most vital and compelling voices of our day.

Washington University has an abundance of wealth when it comes to thought leaders, and the Assembly Series provides the chance to experience the best and brightest minds right here.
As always, every Assembly Series program is free and open to the public, although space may be limited.

Assembly Series opens with Mark Jordan on Feb. 4

Tuesday, Feb. 4, noon, Umrath Hall Lounge
“Divine Beauty and Its Ghosts”

Mark D. Jordan, PhD, the Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University, will kick off a three-part lecture series for WUSTL ‘s Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities. All three talks begin at noon in Umrath Hall Lounge.

Jordan has titled the series “Divine Beauty and Its Ghosts: Nietzsche, Weil and Foucault.” The Assembly Series event on Tuesday will focus on Nietzsche, with the Wednesday, Feb. 5, and Thursday, Feb. 6, programs covering Simone Weil and Michel Foucault, respectively.

Explaining the meaning of the title, Jordan said:

“We cannot talk long about beauty without talking about our gods, even if we mean to pronounce them dead. The ‘death of God’ in Nietzsche’s sense is as much the loss of a dazzling beauty as the denial of transcendence or the diagnosis of a lapse in religious feelings. If the beauty has withdrawn, it does not vanish. It haunts a line of modern texts as memory, but also as desire.

“These lectures track the ghosts of divine beauty in Nietzsche and two writers who come after him. Each relies on exact memories of old texts that spoke about gods without mourning. Each scrutinizes the recent testimonies to desire for beauty in literature and the arts,” Jordan continued.

“Most of all, these three try to invent new forms for writing that can perform the loss of the divine and, perhaps, even entice it to return.”

A distinguished philosopher, ethicist and theologian, Jordan’s more recent research and teaching interests center on contemporary topics in Christianity in the United States, especially in the interplay of political and religious rhetoric, the history of sex and gender in America, and the functions of ritual in creating unexpected identities.

He received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s College and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.

Spring 2014 schedule

The rest of the spring semester schedule follows. To find out more about each program and to receive updates and reminders, visit the Assembly Series website or call 314-935-4620.

Thursday, Feb. 6, 4:30 p.m., Graham Chapel
“Brave Genius: A Scientist’s Journey from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize”

Sean Carroll is an evolutionary biologist, popular author, educator and WUSTL alumnus who discovered the beauty of the humanities while studying biology as a student here. His embrace of both worlds informs his most recent book, “Brave Genius,” which chronicles the adventures of Jacques Monod, a co-founder of the field of molecular biology, from the dark years of the German occupation of Paris to the heights of the Nobel Prize; his friendship with the great writer Albert Camus; and his emergence as a public figure and leading voice of science. A booksigning will follow. Sponsored by Arts & Sciences and the Institute for School Partnership

(Related links: Story of Brave Genius; Sam Harris on Brave Genius; Antarctic icefish film)

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m., Graham Chapel

“Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”

Presented by the Student Union Speakers Series *

Sheryl WuDunn studies and writes about the economic, political and social forces affecting women throughout the globe. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and author of “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” But “Half the Sky” is more than a book; it also is a powerful social justice and economic movement that is positively affecting millions of womens’ lives. A booksigning will follow. Sponsored by the WUSTL student group Half the Sky and the Gephardt Institute for Public Service

(Related links:WuDunn TED Talk; PBS: Half the Sky movement)

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 6 p.m., Graham Chapel
“Opportunities and Challenges Facing America Today”

Presented by the Student Union Speakers Series *

As a candidate during the 2012 presidential primary campaign, Huntsman was known as “the Reasonable Republican,” and it’s easy to see why: although the former two-time governor of Utah and former ambassador to China under President Obama no longer holds public office, he continues to be a voice for civil discourse and sound business and government policies. Sponsored by the Washington University Political Review student organization in partnership with the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy

Please note that seating for the public will be limited at this event.

(Related links:Huntsman named Atlantic Council chair)

Monday, March 3, 5 p.m., Graham Chapel
“The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present”

Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel has been called a titan of modern neuroscience. He also is a Renaissance man whose Viennese birthplace produced what he calls “The Age of Insight,” a dynamic flourishing of science and art brought on by the meeting of such revolutionary minds as Freud and Klimt. Kandel’s talk will explore the neuroscience of aesthetics outlined in his book by the same name, written in an attempt by the author to answer this question: How are internal representations of a face, a scene, a melody, or an experience encoded in the brain?” Arthur Holly Compton Science Lecture

(Related links:Charlie Rose Brain Series; Review of “Age of Insight”)

Wednesday, March 5, 5:30 p.m., Graham Chapel
“Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind”

In1992 neuroscientist Richard Davidson was challenged by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, to apply the rigors of brain science to study positive qualities of mind. The Dalai Lama picked the right person. In the ensuing decades, Davidson has discovered ways to help people live happier, healthier lives through mental skills training such as meditation and yoga. Witherspoon Memorial Lecture, sponsored by Religious Studies Program and Department of Psychology, both in Arts & Sciences

(Related links: Davidson: Building Happier Brains;

March 10 – 14 SPRING BREAK

Tuesday, March 18, noon, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom
“The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act”

As one of five members of the bipartisan Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai Feldblum is responsible for upholding the federal laws against workplace discrimination. It’s a fitting job for someone dedicated to advocating for the rights of minorities and who was instrumental in the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. To mark the half-centennial anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as well as to celebrate International Women’s Day, Feldblum will share her views about the meaning of this milestone in American history. Sponsored by the School of Law, Women’s Law Caucus, The Woman’s Club of Washington University and the Gephardt Institute for Public Service

Wednesday, March 26, 6 p.m., Graham Chapel
“How Curiosity Changed My Life”

NASA called it “seven minutes of terror.” In August 2012, the world watched to see if the Mars rover Curiosity, a 1-ton robot hurtling toward the red planet at 13,200 miles per hour, would gently land on the surface or explode on contact. The planned landing allowed for zero margin of error. No problem — the perfect landing was made all the more dazzling for the fact that its lead engineer and public “face” of the effort, Adam Steltzner, a/k/a Elvis, flunked high school geometry and used to play in a rock band. Steltzner’s talk will explore both types of curiosity – the rover and the human attribute — and opine on where space exploration should head next.

(Related links: Smithsonian: Curiosity landing;Steltzner TEDx Talk; Steltzner on NPR quiz show)

Thursday, March 27, 4 p.m., Steinberg Hall Auditorium
“Greece Between Antiquity and Modernity: Views of Two Early 19th-Century Travelers”

John Camp will serve as this year’s John and Penelope Biggs Lecturer in the Classics. A world-renowned archaeologist, Camp is director of the Agora excavations in Athens, the longest continuing excavation in Greece.

(Related links:Amazon: Archaeology of Athens)

Monday, March 31, time TBA, Simon Hall, May Auditorium
“Mental Illness Awareness: No Kidding? Me Too!”
Presented by the Student Union Speakers Series *

You might recognize the actor Joe Pantoliano as Ralphie on the hit TV series “The Sopranos,” or maybe as Cypher in “The Matrix” films, or as a character in more than 100 TV, film and stage roles. But there is one role he definitely wants you to remember: Founder of the No Kidding? Me Too! Foundation, created to educate people about the need to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness, which affects nearly 100 million Americans, and to encourage sufferers to seek treatment. Sponsored by the WUSTL student group Active Minds, in partnership with the Brown School, Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling, and Student Health and Safety

Please note that seating for the public will be limited at this event.

(Related links: WebMD: Mental Illness Hits Home; No Kidding? Me Too! documentary)

Thursday, April 10, time and location TBA
Skandalaris Center Lecture on Social Entrepreneurship
Speaker to be announced

Thursday, April 17, 5 p.m., Simon Hall, May Auditorium
“From Salesman to Hamletmachine: The Need for the Humanities”

Last June, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences published a report called “The Heart of the Matter,” making the case that the humanities and social sciences are necessary for a vibrant, competitive and secure nation. This is not the usual argument for the humanities, and that’s a good thing, according to WUSTL Provost Holden Thorp, PhD, who was recently elected to the National Humanities Center. He believes that those in higher education have an obligation to keep the humanities vital — but need to find a better way to talk about the humanities to our external stakeholders that also resonates internally. His talk will examine arguments and strategies being used to garner support for strong humanities teaching and research in the current fiscal and political climates. Phi Beta Kappa/Sigma Xi Lecture

(Related links: Thorp elected to National Humanities Center; Thorp interviews)

For more information on these programs, visit the website at or call 314-935-4620.

* Special thanks to Student Union, the undergraduate student government at Washington University in St. Louis, for providing funds to the sponsoring student groups for these speakers.