Orr Forum

The Return of the Apocalyptic

The 2015-16 Orr Forum

The apocalyptic has often been dismissed as the concern of only a few “primitives.” Today, however, we are inundated with apocalyptic visions, both religious and secular. It seems that that apocalyptic has returned, if it ever went away, and that for all the anxiety about the future, the apocalyptic is a force here and now.

All events are free and open to the public. 

Fall Schedule of Events

Tue. Sept. 29 - Waiting for the End of the World
Dr. Wendell Smith
12 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

Waiting for the End of the World: Apocalypse in the Beatus of Liébana

An eighth-century Spanish monk named Beatus of Liébana wrote the Commentarium in Apocalpysin, the seed text that established the language, and a great deal of the imagery, with which the Middle Ages understood the Apocalypse. For the Apocalyptic tradition founded by Beatus, what did imagining the end of the world have to do with Christian debates about whether Jesus Christ was human?  To what extent were representations of the impending end of the world simply a metaphor for life as a minority Christian in a land ruled by Muslims? And what can the Beatus manuscripts’ vision of Armageddon tell us about how we imagine the world will end today?

Wendell P. Smith is Associate Professor of Spanish at Wilson College. His research interests include the genre of chivalric romance and colonialism, and how these intersect with the tri-cultural (Christian/Muslim/Jewish) environment of Medieval and Early Modern Spain.  His work on Beatus of Liébana grows from a recent article on the ideological implications of global cartography entitled "'Ver mundo': Enchanted Boats, Atlases and Imperial Magic in the Second Part of Don Quijote." When not at his computer, he likes to run trails with his Australian Shepherd, Mia, and garden.

Supported by the Orr Forum, proud sponsor of the Return of the Apocalyptic lecture series

Tue. Oct. 6 – Care For Our Common Home: Pope Francis and the Environment
Dr. Matthew Shadle

The Spiritual Roots of the Environmental Crisis: Pope Francis’s Ecology Encyclical
12 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

A number of pundits and politicians have questioned whether Pope Francis, a religious leader, ought to speak so strongly about the scientific questions of climate change and environmental destruction. In his recent encyclical Laudato Si’, Francis makes the case that our environmental crisis is at heart a spiritual crisis and therefore Christians churches must speak out on the issue. This talk will look at what Pope Francis has to say about spirituality, science, and our relationship with the earth.

Everything is Connected: Pope Francis and Integral Ecology
4 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

Throughout his recent encyclical Laudato Si’ Pope Francis insists that “everything is connected”: humankind is connected to the ecosystems in which we live, and social problems such as poverty and technological development are connected to our misuse of the natural environment. Although richly drawing on the Christian tradition, Francis points us in radical new directions by asking us to re-imagine what it means to be human in light of our place in the natural world.

Matthew Shadle is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. His expertise is in the tradition of Catholic social teaching and in Christian ethical thought on war and peace and economic justice. He has published The Origins of War: A Catholic Perspective (Georgetown, 2011) and articles in several theological journals. He and his wife live in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Supported by the Global Citizens Fund, proud sponsor of Confronting Climate Change

Tue. Oct. 20  - Doomsday Scenarios
Dr. Kelly Baker

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign: Tim LaHaye's End-Times Theologies
12 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

I'll talk through some of LaHaye's more recent apocalyptic visions and how they are different, and less popular, than his previous Left Behind series. Signs of end times emerge as political events.

Evening: With a Shamble and a Moan: Zombie Apocalypses in American Culture
4 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

Zombies bring about the end of the world over and over again in popular culture. These monster tales provide not only visions of a dystopian end, but also say much about current moment's humanity and inhumanity.

Kelly J. Baker is a freelance writer with a religious studies PhD who covers higher education, gender, labor, motherhood, American religions, and popular culture. She has regular columns at the Chronicle for Higher Education's Vitae project, Women in Higher Education, Killing the Buddha, and Sacred Matters. She’s written for The Atlantic, The Rumpus, The Manifest-Station, the Washington Post's Faith Street, and Brain, Child. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930,  and The Zombies Are Coming!: The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture. When she’s not writing essays or wrangling children, she’s hacking away at collection of essays on apocalypses in America tentatively titled “The End of Us.”

Supported by the Orr Forum, proud sponsor of the Return of the Apocalyptic lecture series

Tue. Nov. 3 - Black Apocalypse & Christian Hope
Dr. Vincent Lloyd

Beyond Pragmatic Politics: African American Science Fiction as Political Theology
12 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

Increasing awareness of police brutality and the disproportionate imprisonment of Black Americans have made us aware of just how deeply entrenched racism is. Incremental political change often seems futile. There is a long tradition of Blacks writing apocalyptic fiction in the face of deep-seated racism - but is such fiction political?

Love in the End Times: On Samuel Delany and #blacklivesmatter
4 p.m. in Patterson Bay, Laird Hall

Samuel Delany is the preeminent African American science fiction writer. His novels and memoirs tackle the complexities of identity, race, and personal relationships. How might his writings help us respond to anti-black racism, from police violence to microaggression?

Vincent Lloyd is Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. In 2012, he was a visiting scholar at the Notre Dame Institute of Advanced Study. His research centers on the intersection of religion, politics, and race, and he is currently finishing a book project on the role of natural law in African American political thought. He is the author of Law and Transcendence: On the Unfinished Project of Gillian Rose (Palgrave, 2009) and The Problem with Grace: Reconfiguring Political Theology (Stanford, 2011), as well as the editor, most recently, of Race and Political Theology (Stanford, 2012). When not at work, he participates in local political organizing, and he enjoys the company of his cats, Sophie and Little Malcolm. More information on his research is available here and  here.

Supported by the Orr Forum, Proud Sponsor of the Return of the Apocalyptic lecture series


History of the Orr Forum

Since its inception in 1964 the Orr Forum has been Wilson College’s most widely-known and perhaps most prestigious academic event. Prior to the establishment of the Orr Forum, the College sponsored annually what was called “Devotional Week” with a series of chapel services, sermons, and a communion service.


During the 1962-1963 academic year Associate Professor of Bible and Religion Harry Buck and Professor Graham Jamieson, Chairman of the Department of The Bible and Religion, discussed the use of a fund established by Thomas J. Orr in honor of his parents Mary and William. The aim was to establish an endowed lecture series that would bring to campus outstanding thinkers in various aspects of religion studies. President Paul Swain Havens enthusiastically endorsed the plan, approving its implementation in 1964. The following year Professor Raymond Anderson joined the Department and quickly became an invaluable part of the Orr Forum personnel.


Topics addressed by the Orr Forum have reflected the wide and shifting interests in religion studies in America. The series began with Edward Jurji, Professor of Islamics and Comparative Religion, Princeton Theological Seminary, speaking on convergence and prejudice. Succeeding years have been devoted to such topics as bioethics; race relations; the relationship of church and state; the nexus between religion and environmental issues; the AIDS crisis; and contemporary Islam.

Recent Orr Scholars



A Robed Revolulution:
Female Ordination in Buddhism (2013)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Susanne Mrozik
Associate Professor of Religion
Mount Holyoke College


Female ordination in Buddhism is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Buddhist world today. Dr. Susanne Mrozik of Mount Holyoke College examines what is at stake—and for whom—in international and local campaigns to grant women access to full ordination as Buddhist nuns (bhikkhuni). She focuses particular attention on Sri Lanka, where she spent two years conducting ethnographic research on the 1998 revival of the Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist nun’s order.

Susanne Mrozik is a gender specialist in Buddhist studies. She teaches courses on women in Buddhism, Buddhist ethics, Buddhist literature, Buddhism in America, and a comparative religion course on body images and practices in religious traditions. Most of her courses are cross-listed in Asian Studies and/or Gender Studies. She also is the Mount Holyoke faculty advisor for the Five College Buddhist Certificate Program.

Mrozik has contributed scholarly articles to a range of publications, including Religion Compass, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, and the Journal of Religious Ethics. She is the recipient of numerous teaching and academic awards, including the Derek Bok Center Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard University; an American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies Fellowship for ethnographic research in Sri Lanka; a Fulbright grant for Sanskrit research in India; and a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Completion Fellowship.





KeciaAli_2011.jpgEthical Formation in a Post-Secular Age (2012)

Guest Speaker: Jennifer A. Herdt, Ph.D.
Professor of Christian Ethics
Yale Divinity School

Autonomy After Virtue

I distinguish among four conceptions of autonomy and argue that the contemporary turn to tradition, given its self-conscious character, is best understood not as a repudiation of autonomy but as tradition-constituted autonomy.
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Scripture (Secular and Sacred) in the Task of Ethical Formation

In conversation with Martha Nussbaum, postliberal theologians, and Nicholas Boyle, I reflect on the role that secular literature (especially the novel) and sacred scripture play in ethical formation, and how these might fruitfully be understood in relation to one another.

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Forming a More Perfect Union: Democratic Virtues, Proximate Goods, and Christian Formation

I ask whether and how the retrieval of virtue ethics and the turn to tradition-constituted autonomy might contribute to improving the quality of public life in American society today.

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KeciaAli_2011.jpgRepresenting Muhammad:
Competing Images of Islam's Prophet (2011)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Klecia Ali
Assistant Professor of Religion
Boston University


An Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University, Kecia Ali received her Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University, with a specialization in Islamic Studies. She is the author of Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (Oneworld Publications, 2006) and Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (Harvard University Press, 2010). Her research centers on Islamic religious texts, especially jurisprudence, and women in both classical and contemporary Muslim discourses. Her biography of the jurist and legal theorist al-Shafi'i will appear in Oneworld's Makers of the Muslim World series in 2011. Her current book project, The Lives of Muhammad, investigates Muslim and non-Muslim biographies of the prophet. She serves as co-chair for the Study of Islam Section of the American Academy of Religion and is a member of its Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. She previously held research and teaching fellowships at Brandeis University and Harvard Divinity School.




DouglasOttati_2010.jpgModern Theology (2010)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Douglas F. Ottati
Craig Family Distinguished Professor in Reformed Theology and Justice Ministry
Davidson College


His scholarly interests include contemporary theology and ethics, as well as the history of theology and ethics, particularly in America. He is co-general editor of the multi-volume series, The Library of Theological Ethics.Recent books include Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species, Reforming Protestantism: Christian Commitment in Today's World, and Hopeful Realism: Recovering the Poetry of Theology.




PaulWaldau_2009.jpgWhy Animals Matter (2009)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Paul Waldau
Director, Center for Animals and Public Policy
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Tufts University


Dr. Paul Waldau has spent much of the last decade studying the different ways that cultures, religious traditions and legal systems impact our view of the animals outside our own species. Focusing on our inherited views of these beings, as well as our current treatment and future possibilities, Dr. Waldau has published books and articles, and also lectured widely in academic, corporate, and media-based venues. With extensive experience in the academic world, veterinary education, legal education and the world of nonprofit organizations, Dr. Waldau speaks to religious concerns, the importance of scientifically informed analyses, and the foundational role of ethical inquiry. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University in 1997. His other degrees include a Juris Doctor degree from U.C.L.A. in 1978, a 1974 Master of Arts degree in Modern Religious Thought from Stanford University, and a 1971 Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from the University of California.




NancyAmmerman_2008.jpgOn Being Publicly Religious (2008)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Nancy Ammerman
Professor of Sociology of Religion
Boston University


Dr. Nancy Ammerman has spent much of the last decade studying American congregations. Her most recent book, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and their Partners (University of California Press, 2005), describes the common patterns that shape the work of American's diverse communities of faith. Her 1997 book, Congregation and Community, tells the stories of twenty-three congregations that encountered various forms of neighborhood change in communities around the country. Along with a team of others, she edited and contributed to Studying Congregations: A New Handbook, published in 1998 by Abingdon. Prior to her work on congregations, she wrote extensively on conservative religious movements, including Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World, a study of an independent Baptist church in New England, and Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, which received the 1992 Distinguished Book award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Nancy has also been active in attempting to educate a larger public audience about American religion. In 1993, she served on the panel of experts convened by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury to make recommendations in light of the government's confrontation with the Branch Davidians at Waco. In 1995, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same subject, and in 1997 she lectured in Israel under sponsorship of the U.S. State Department. Nancy earned the Ph.D. degree from Yale University.



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