Political expert to visit Baylor

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

The post-inauguration portion of the Presidential Symposium Series will continue today with political philosopher Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain speaking to the Baylor community about the importance of a liberal arts education at 3 p.m. in Kayser Auditorium of the Hankamer School of Business.

Elshtain is the Leavey Chair in the Foundations of American Freedom at Georgetown University and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. She has written and edited a number of books and also has been published in various journals of civic opinion.

“She’s a nationally and internationally recognized expert in a number of fields of political science, political thought, international relations, ethics — a whole range of subjects that are also important to Baylor,” said Dr. David Clinton, professor and chair of the political science department at Baylor. “She has published widely. She has been the prolific analyst of contemporary events. So she’s brought political, ethical, moral [and] philosophical thought to bear on real contemporary issues.”

A friend of Elshtain’s, Dr. Byron Johnson, co-director for the Institute of Studies of Religion and distinguished professor of social sciences, said Elshtain’s breadth of expertise in various fields is impressive.

“She’s just a giant in the academy and she’s one of these rare scholars whose record in so many different disciplines is just astounding,” Johnson said. “So whether you’re talking political science or you’re talking philosophy, she has very few peers.”

Because of Elshtain’s interest in Baylor and its mission, Johnson said he believes she was a good choice to bring to Baylor.

“She’s kept a close eye on Baylor. She’s a Christian and there are so many Christians throughout the academy all across the country, and I think across the world, that really are watching Baylor and trying to see if this grand experiment, what we call Vision 2012, can really be achieved — being world class in terms of excellence and also being committed to the Christian faith,” Johnson said. “So for someone like Jean Elshtain … she just has a very keen interest in what’s gong on here, not to mention the fact that she shares the same mission and vision of Baylor herself in her own life.”

Dr. James Bennighof, professor of music theory and vice provost for academic affairs, said he thinks Elshtain’s lecture will help students understand the importance of classes that are not as career-oriented and the more abstract ideas taught in those classes.

“A lot of the times the value of such things has to do with developing the ability to think critically, having examples of how great thinkers throughout history have dealt with problems that are not necessarily career-oriented,” Bennighof said. “I think that [the lecture will] shed light on the value of liberal learning, and especially with respect to some of the ideas that she’s found important to write about.”

In 2004, Elshtain spoke at Baylor as part of a conference titled “Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community.”

Dr. Thomas Hibbs, dean of the Honors College, said it is an honor to have Elshtain come back to Baylor this year.

“Jean Elshtain is one of the most gifted public intellectuals in the United States,” Hibbs wrote in an e-mail to the Lariat. “Her lectures are always topical and informed by her prodigious scholarship, witty and tough-minded. It is a great honor for Baylor to host her yet again.”

The next presenter in the symposium series will be Dr. Nancy Cantor, chancellor and president of Syracuse University, speaking on university-community engagement. Cantor’s speech will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Cashion Academic Center’s Blume Banquet Hall.