April 23, 2020
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Release Date: Feb. 11, 2020
GAMBIER, Ohio — Father Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk and executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML), speaks at Kenyon College on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 4:15 p.m. in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater, 101 ½ College Drive. His lecture, titled “What a (Modern) Monk Does: Saving the World’s Manuscript Heritage from Imminent Danger,” is free and open to the public.
In 2012, a priceless collection of 300,000 ancient Islamic manuscripts was nearly lost to history when a group associated with al-Qaida seized control of the city of Timbuktu in Mali. Stewart works to ensure historic documents such as these will never again be endangered. For the last 15 years, Stewart has traveled the world on behalf of the HMML to preserve religious manuscripts threatened by war, geopolitics, natural disasters and climate change. He partners with local communities to photograph and digitize centuries-old books and documents in their original context, uploading the images to the organization’s database where they can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.
“The work that Columba and the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library do is like the liberal arts college in microcosm,” said Professor of Classics Adam Serfass. “You need intensive language training, you need a knowledge of history, religion and art history. I love the idea that their work brings together all these disciplines in the service of preserving these manuscripts from religious communities across the world. It perfectly illustrates what you can do with collaboration in the liberal arts.”
To date, the HMML has archived more than 250,000 handwritten Islamic and Christian texts in dozens of languages originating from Africa, Europe, the Middle East and South India.
“The preservation of these manuscripts and their illustrations and art enriches all of us. They show us what it means to be truly human,” said Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus Royal Rhodes, a friend of Stewart’s. “This is our common heritage.”
In addition to his afternoon address, Stewart will lead a discussion about following the rule of St. Benedict on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 11:10 a.m. in Ascension Hall 120, 202 College-Park St. This event also is free and open to the public.
An expert in the field of early Christian monasticism, Stewart holds degrees from Harvard University, Yale University and Oxford University. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a residency at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton during the 2016-2017 academic year for work on his upcoming book, “Between Earth and Heaven: Interpreting the Origins of Christian Asceticism and Monasticism.” In 2019, he was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the annual Jefferson Lecture, the highest honor bestowed by the federal government for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.
Stewart’s talk is sponsored by the Faculty Lectureships program, the Robert O. Fink Memorial Fund of the Department of Classics, and the Department of Religious Studies. For more information, please call 740-427-5592.