Spring Academy of Religion Probes the Paradox of Poverty

Six-week lecture series examines whether the poor are “truly blessed”

18 March, 2014 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Despite a dramatic increase in global wealth, international poverty rates continue to escalate, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, and reigniting the debate about how the world should respond.

The 2014 Spring Academy of Religion, hosted annually by The College of Wooster, will attempt to better understand the causes of poverty as well as the lives, the hopes, and the humanity of the poor. Each session will be held in Lean Lecture Room of Wishart Hall (303 E. University St.), with the exception of the first one (March 27), which will be held in Gault Recital Hall of Scheide Music Center (525 E. University St.). All six lectures will begin at 7:30 p.m.

"We will interrogate what massive poverty tells us about the reality of our societies and the state of our own humanity," says Charles Kammer, the James F. Lincoln Professor of Religious Studies at Wooster and academic dean of the Spring Academy. "We are hopeful that through this series we will be challenged to act on behalf of the poor and to allow the poor to speak to us so that our own humanity might be redeemed."

Kammer points out that there is a paradox in the contrasting images of the poor. "Poverty is often viewed as the path to moral purity and closeness to the sacred," he says. "Those who choose to take vows of poverty are among the most admired and celebrated persons in the world's cultures and religious traditions, but for the overwhelming majority of the poor, poverty is not a choice. It means economic hardship and social insecurity, and often results in judgment, blame, humiliation, and degradation for those who are poor.

"But what about those who have wealth," asks Kammer. "Have we become so dehumanized that we are not morally outraged by the suffering of the poor and embarrassed by the affluence in which we live?"

The speakers in this series will address that question and many others, beginning on Thursday, March 27, when Steve Brown, creator and director of the Maximin Project (a program focused on combatting global poverty) and an instructor in the department of philosophy at The Ohio State University, presents "What Should We Do about Global Poverty?"

One week later (April 3), Stacia Kock, assistant professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Wooster, will discuss "Challenging Expectations: Connecting Poverty to Policy."

On April 10, there will be a documentary film and a group discussion on poverty. Then, on April 17, Devin Johns, a senior English and anthropology double major at Wooster, along with Molly Porter, a junior sociology major, will share their thoughts about the time they spent in Washington, D.C., when they discuss "Unconditional Human Dignity: Our Experience in the Nation's Capital."

The series continues on April 24 when William Longbrake, executive in residence at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and a member of the Board of Trustees at The College of Wooster, talks about "America's Crumbling Social System: Potential Solutions Involving Religious and Non-Profit Leadership and Organizations."

The final session will take place on May 1 when Charles Kammer presents "No Salvation Outside the Market or No Salvation Outside the Poor?"

The Spring Academy of Religion is supported, in part, by the Arthur J. Baird Endowment, the Morris Speaker's Fund of the Religious Studies Department, and the Office of Interfaith Campus Ministries. Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2129) or e-mail.