Baylor hosts world’s largest Dante reading group

Prof. Thomas Ward is one of the participating professors in 100 Days of Dante, a reading event of the Divine Comedy. Audrey La | Photographer

By Madison Martin | Reporter

This month, Baylor’s Honors College, with the support of five collaborating universities, kicked off 100 Days of Dante — the world’s largest Dante reading group. The event was created in honor of famous Italian poet and moral philosopher Dante Alighieri, who is revered for his work, “La Commedia,” better known as “The Divine Comedy.”

As a tribute to the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. several Baylor faculty members will be sharing one canto of the epic poem at a time to guide readers around the world through the work.

The poem is about a man who strays from his original path of morality and struggles to recover his righteous life until he is rescued by the love and care of wise guides.

After reading the poem when he was in college, Baylor philosophy professor Dr. Thomas M. Ward said it’s important for students to learn the story.

“Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ is a story about the radical transformation each of us must undergo in order to fulfill our deepest longings,” Ward said. “It helps us to confront the truth about the harmfulness of sin in imaginative and gory detail. It teaches us that grace is not cheap and transformation is not easy. And it inspires hope that, amid all the pain and heartbreak of this life, it is nevertheless possible to achieve true joy.”

Inspired by the story of Dante, assistant research professor of ethics and theology Matthew Anderson proposed to the dean of the Honors College, Dr. Douglas Henry, that a large event be held in honor of the poet. Together, they rallied collaborators, assembled a plan and launched one of the biggest humanities ventures in the philosophy department.

“Our mission calls us to integrate academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community,” Henry said. “100 Days of Dante does this magnificently. The brilliant yet accessible videos on the website unite faith and understanding, inviting all who see them to better ways of thinking, living and serving others.”

Baylor’s mission to pursue knowledge is fostered by the conviction of truth under the university’s seal: Pro Ecclesia. Baylor’s vision of religious virtue is stated as “affirming the value of intellectually informed faith and religiously informed education, the university seeks to provide an environment that fosters spiritual maturity, strength of character and moral virtue.”

Lessons in “The Divine Comedy” inspire readers to value the quality of their lives through practices of generosity, restraint and compassion.

“Dante radically affirms the goodness of all creation,” Ward said. “Our duty to love God above all things is not ultimately in competition with our natural love for other people and other things. As we learn to love things right, we move in tune with the cosmos and prepare ourselves for eternal joy in heaven.”