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Questioning Passion Interdisciplinary Series to be Held During 2015-2016 Academic Year

Washington and Lee University’s Questioning Passion Interdisciplinary Seminar Series is a year-long colloquium that explores passion: Is it good or bad, unwise or necessary, the key to happiness or a distraction from the path to success?

The 2015-2016 series is organized around six visiting speakers chosen for the discipline they represent as well as for the perspective they will bring to questioning passion. Each is a leader in his or her field and is known for success in addressing a general audience. Each of the six public lectures will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater in Elrod Commons on the day noted.

The professors who organized the series are Jeffrey Kosky, professor of religion; Karla Murdock, David G. Elmes Professor of Psychology; Jon Eastwood, Laurent Boetsch Term Associate Professor of Sociology; Tim Diette, Harry E. and Mary Jane W. Redenbaugh Term Associate Professor of Economics; and Art Goldsmith, Jackson T. Stephens Professor of Economics.

“There is a lot of talk in the popular media about passion, and it is a theme that young people and their parents increasingly take into consideration as they think about their futures,” said Kosky. “We hear a series of competing claims: sometimes we are told that finding our passion is the key to success in life, but at other times we are told to be more calculating and deliberate in how we approach life if we want to succeed. Clearly there is a lot of confusion about the topic.”

Kosky continued, “My co-organizers and I chose passion as the topic of the series for this academic year not so much because we want to clear up the confusion but because we believe a university is one of the rare and special cultural institutions that can stage it so as to respond to it thoughtfully and meaningfully. In fact, academic experts in many disciplines are thinking about passion and the passions in new, exciting, and sometimes contradictory ways. We hope that this series provides a setting where academic expertise can be shaped by popular concern, while popular concern can be liberally educated by experts in the university.”

Although the series will be centered on the speakers and their public lectures, W&L students, faculty and staff who choose to register as seminar participants will also meet the speakers during luncheon programs and attend additional sessions on the topic throughout the academic year.

Students, faculty and staff can sign up through the seminar’s website: http://www.wlu.edu/questioning-passion.

The series speakers are:

  • Sept. 17, 2015 – Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson will give the first talk, which is also the 2015-16 Root Lecture, “On Passions, Positivity and Love.” Her latest book, “LOVE.2.0,” provides a new way of thinking about love in addition to romantic or passionate love, focusing more on momentary interactions and ordinary, everyday experiences that generate love.
  • Oct. 22, 2015 – Art historian, critic and writer James Elkins’ recent work raises serious questions about the place passion and passionate response might or might not have in a university classroom in general and, and more particularly, in a critical discussion of artwork.
  • Nov. 12, 2015 – Literary critic Philip Fisher’s recent book, “The Vehement Passions,” analyzes the nature and value of intense emotion. He is working on a book about passions that move us ethically, in particular kindness and malice.
  • Jan. 14, 2016 – Philosopher Lars Svendson was asked to address boredom, which could be understood as the absence of passion, because this seems an appropriate place from which to glimpse the significance or insignificance of passion and the passions.
  • Feb. 4, 2016 – Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written several books on the evolution and future of human sex, love and marriage. Her recent research uses fMRI to study the brain systems and chemistry involved in romantic love and mating.
  • March 3, 2016 – Economist Robert H. Frank is well known for complicating the foundational model of the rational actor as an agent of economic life with his account of the important role that passion and emotions play in decision making.

The lectures and other events making up Questioning Passion are possible with funds provided by the Office of the Provost, the Root Lecture Fund, the Johnson Endowment, University Lectures Fund, The Class of ’63 Lecture Series, the Office of the Dean of the Williams School and the Office of the Dean of the College.