Orr Forum

Prophetic Fragments

The 2014-15 Orr Forum

Talk of utility runs deep in our society, often dominating our conversations and much of our lives. We place a premium on useful technology, of course, but it doesn’t end there. We’ve become accustomed, for example, of talking about a college education as a practical way to get ahead in the job market. Our gaze appears firmly fixed on the tangible, the immediate, and the practical. And yet, we still remain intrigued by the idea of the prophetic, that there exist divine utterances-- spoken words with the power to create new worlds, inspired voices capable of stirring our imaginations into action.

We don’t lack for prophets in the modern world--from Flannery O'Connor’s haunting figures to the ever-present preachers of doom, warning of the approaching apocalyptic end of our society, even our species. On the other hand, the United States has long been spoken of as a fulfillment of prophetic destinies. And then there is Dr. King with his famous dream and troubling nightmare. Scattered across history, mixed in with our pursuit of the practical, are prophetic fragments daring us to imagine a new world.

This year’s Orr Forum features an interdisciplinary group of scholars and artists engaging the theme “prophetic fragments.” The series commences on September 2 with Dr. Amy Merrill Willis, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lynchburg College, discussing prophetic motifs in biblical literature. Merrill Willis’s lectures will be followed by six Orr @ Midday talks from scholars of history, ethics, literature, and fine arts. The series will conclude with two Orr Lectures by this year’s Orr Scholar, Dr. George Shulman. Dr. Shulman was named this year’s Orr Scholar in honor of his contributions to our understanding of race and the prophetic in American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture. He is  Professor of Political Theory at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

All events are free and open to the public. 

Schedule of Events


ORR @ MIDDAY: Brain Food + Dessert

7 Talks on Tuesdays @ 12Noon
30 Minute Talks + Conversation
Beginning Sept. 2
Second Floor Atrium, Brooks Center (unless otherwise indicated)


ORR @ MIDDAY: How to Be a Prophet:
Models of Prophetic Discourse

Sept. 2
Special Guest: Amy Merrill Willis
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Lynchburg College

The role of the prophet as it existed in Ancient Israel and the Old Testament no longer exists.  Nevertheless, contemporary Americans recognize that some people and ways of talking may be prophetic.  But how do we tell the difference between a prophet and a crank? From Moses to Jonah to Jon Stewart, this presentation will consider the function of prophets and the character of prophetic speech.

ORR LECTURE 1: "Once, there were two men ... ":
The Prophetic Story and the Moral Imagination

Sept. 2 @ 5 PM
Special Guest: Amy Merrill Willis
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Lynchburg College
Patterson Lounge, Laird Hall

Although we usually associate biblical prophets with oracles of judgment, sometimes prophetic materials appear in the Bible’s stories and parables.  This lecture will explore the moral equipment and prophetic work of biblical stories such as the Book of Ruth and  Nathan’s parable to King David in 2 Samuel 12. It will also consider how our secular narratives function prophetically.



Amy Merrill Willis, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, VA.  Her teaching and research interests include Apocalyptic Literature, Women and the Bible, the Bible and Social Justice, and the Bible and Popular Culture.  She is the author of Dissonance and the Drama of Divine Sovereignty in the Book of Daniel (T&T Clark/ Bloomsbury, 2010), as well as various articles on the Book of Daniel. She is a contributor to The Women’s Bible Commentary, 3rd Edition (Westminster/John Knox, 2012) and a regular contributor to the blog, Political Theology Today. She and her husband, Steve Willis, are both teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church, USA. They are parents to two adolescent children and a lovable yellow Labrador.



ORR @ MIDDAY: Voices in a Different Key: Women's Prophesying in Early Modern England

Sept. 23
Kay Ackerman
Associate Professor of History, Wilson College

In In Early Modern European history there is a longstanding relationship between prophecy, popular action and political and religious radicalism. Professor Ackerman will look at how prophecy functioned during the upheavals of the English Civil Wars and, in particular, how prophecy offered a way for women to express themselves publicly, commenting on the religious and political events of their times.

Kay Ackerman is Associate Professor of History at Wilson College and teaches courses in Early Modern Europe and American History.


ORR @ MIDDAY: Imagination and Hope at the End of a Way of Life

Oct. 7

John Elia
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Wilson College

In this talk, I draw inspiration from Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation to ask about the contemporary American cultural imaginary, our symbols of ‘loss-yet-hope,’ and the need for communities of resilience in the face of our own cultural and ecological challenges. I recommend stories from the 1930s Dust Bowl, specifically in the fiction of John Steinbeck and Sanora Babb, for their relevance to the project of building ecologically conscious and socially just communities in the 21st century and beyond.

John Elia is Associate Professor and Thérèse Murray Goodwin ’49 Chair in Philosophy. Though John teaches across the philosophy curriculum, he has special interests in teaching environmental ethics and bioethics.


ORR @ MIDDAY: Prophetic Visions: Looking at Prophecy

Oct. 21
Robert Dickson
Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Dance, Wilson College 
SPECIAL LOCATION: Brooks Center, Auditorium


How do we know what prophets see? Historically, art has helped us translate prophecy into understanding. Bright or dark, what we see in the future says a lot about how we see the present. Starting with apocalyptic visions from Durer and Michelangelo through recent prophecies of floods, space colonies, and mushroom clouds we can examine images to gauge how we use art to look at the past, present, and future.

Robert K. Dickson is an Associate Professor of Fine Arts and teaches art history, photography, and printmaking at Wilson College. He remembers that the future used to look brighter.


ORR @ MIDDAY: Spartacus, Historical Fictions, and the "Nature" of Prophecy

Nov. 4
Patterson Lounge
Michael Cornelius
Associate Professor of English, Chair of the English and Communications Department, Director of the Master of Humanities Program, Wilson College

The talk will look at how historical/icized fiction (especially those set in a classical or pseudo-classical milieu) often treats prophecy as factual when other forms of the more speculative aspects of such fictions (found usually in pseudo-historic texts) are eschewed as junk science or bunk spirituality. Why is prophecy--often, in these fictions, the nebulous foretelling of the future--permissible in our (distant) historical narratives? This piece will look to understand the nature of prophecy itself and how historical fictions use it in constructing their visions of the past and future.


Michael G. Cornelius is the chair of the Department of English and Communications at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA, where he also directs the College’s M.A. in Humanities program. He is the author/editor of fifteen books and has published over 50 academic articles in journals and anthologies. His forthcoming book is Blood, Sand, and Theory: History, Masculinity, and Starz’ Spartacus, which explores the intersections of historical narrative and masculine presentation as depicted against classical narrative settings.


ORR @ MIDDAY: Post-Katrina Prophecies

Feb. 10
Patterson Lounge
Lisa Woolley
Professor of English, Wilson College

What stories do we tell about Hurricane Katrina, and how will they shape our communal responses to the next catastrophe? In both Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and Hold It 'Til It Hurts by T. Geronimo Johnson, fragments left from the storm prompt narratives that warn or reassure us about our nation’s destiny.

Lisa Woolley is professor of English at Wilson College and author of American Voices of the Chicago Renaissance


ORR @ MIDDAY: Images and Imagination in Choreographic Minds

Feb. 24
Patterson Lounge
Paula Kellinger
Professor of Dance, Wilson College

This talk will explore the work of the choreographic mind as a way of seeing the world anew. Through that perception--that intuition, choreographers draw relationships, read movement and make meaning with movement. It is a mind that is acutely aware of how all of an environment is operating and speaking, and the meaningfulness that can be derived and experienced therein.

Paula Kellinger is Professor of Dance at Wilson College.


ORR Lecture 2: Race and Prophecy in American Politics

Thursday, March 5 @ 10 AM
Orr Scholar George M. Shulman
Professor of Political Theory, New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Brooks Center, Auditorium

ORR Lecture 3: Prophetic Politics Today

Thursday, March 5 @ 5 PM
Orr Scholar George M. Shulman
Professor of Political Theory, New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Brooks Center, Auditorium

Is Barack Obama the heir of a prophetic tradition or has he abandoned and betrayed it? Are the social conditions still generating prophetic speech? Among whom?

Professor Shulman’s interests lie in the fields of political thought and American studies. He teaches and writes on political thought in Europe and the United States, as well as on Greek and Hebrew---tragic and biblical---traditions. His teaching and writing emphasize the role of narrative in culture and politics. He is the author of Radicalism and Reverence: Gerrard Winstanley and the English Revolution and American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture (2008). His most recent book, American Prophecy , was awarded the David Easton Prize in political theory. Focusing on the language that great American critics have used to engage the racial domination at the center of American history, American Prophecy explores the relationship of prophecy and race to American nationalism and democratic politics. Professor Shulman is a recipient of the 2003 NYU Distinguished Teaching Award.



The Hankey Center’s fall exhibit will be on Wilson’s role in the Civil Rights movement.

Orr Seminar

A special topics course, “The Religion of Martin Luther King, Jr.” will be offered by Prof. David True in Spring of 2015.

Orr Poster Contest

Orr Essay Contest (Spring 2015)

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.
Listen to Audio File

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.

Listen to Audio File

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.

Listen to Audio File




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.



Wilson College
1015 Philadelphia Ave.
Chambersburg, PA 17201
QUESTIONS?      |      1015 Philadelphia Ave., Chambersburg, PA 17201      |      717-264-4141      |      admissions@wilson.edu