Release: Feb. 12, 2018
GAMBIER, Ohio — Royal W.F. Rhodes, the Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies at Kenyon College, has taught generations of Kenyon students about death, dying and finding purpose in life. Rhodes will share his insights in the latest Kenyon Unique lecture, titled “Learning Turns to Poetry: Lessons on the End of Life,” on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater, 101 ½ College Drive. The lecture, part of a series of conversations with distinguished faculty members and Kenyon alumni, will be streamed live and recorded for a digital archive. A reception will follow.
For decades, Rhodes has taught his popular “Meanings of Death” course, and his “Social Justice: The Ancient and Modern Traditions” class, co-taught with Professor of Sociology George McCarthy, is the longest-running course in Kenyon history taught by the same two professors.
“Both classes, even the Social Justice class, deal with life and death issues,” Rhodes said. “All organisms die, but how do we find meaning, purpose and direction in our life?”
His “Meanings of Death” course explores the symbols, interpretations and practices centering on death in diverse religious traditions, historical periods and cultures. It incorporates religious texts such as the Bible, Buddhist texts and Hindu scriptures; literature such as Plato and Dante; psychological interpretations; and social issues such as AIDS, atomic weapons and ecological threats.
“I tell the students at the beginning of the class that it’s not a therapy class, but invariably it becomes one,” Rhodes said. “The class is really about the languages that have been developed to deal with death.”
The “Social Justice” course examines theories of ethics and social justice from the ancient Hebrew tradition of Torah and the prophets, to New Testament writers Luke and Matthew, to medieval natural law, to modern discussions about social, political and economic justice.
Colton Orr, a senior history major from Shelby, Ohio, has taken three classes with Rhodes. “He’s a religious encyclopedia. There’s no question that I’ve asked him that he didn’t know or didn’t know where to look. And he’s incredibly patient,” Orr said.
Rhodes earned a bachelor of divinity degree from the Yale Divinity School in 1971 and a doctorate in the study of religion from Harvard University in 1979. He joined the Kenyon faculty in 1979 and teaches primarily the history of Christianity. His other interests include liberation theology, religion and the arts, third world religious experience and monasticism in the East and West.
With McCarthy, he co-authored “Eclipse of Justice: Ethics, Economics and the Lost Traditions of American Catholicism.” In 1995, Rhodes published “The Lion and the Cross: Early Christianity in Victorian Novels,” and in 2015 he curated an exhibit about the 150th anniversary of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” for the Greenslade Special Collections and Archives in Kenyon’s Olin Library.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information on Rhodes’s lecture or his courses, call 740-427-5592.