On Friday, March 25, at 12:00 in the Library Conference Room, Dr. Michael Palmer will lead a discussion on Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson (b. 1943), is an American essayist and novelist, whose major output divides almost evenly between fiction and nonfiction. In a review of her most recent book, Absence of Mind, a collection of essays about the implications of a purely materialistic conception of science, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes that “[Robinson] makes the case with exceptional elegance and authority – the authority not only of one of the unmistakably great novelists of the age but of a clear and logical mind that is wholly intolerant of intellectual cliché.”
Gilead (2004), Robinson’s second novel, takes place in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa in 1956, and consists wholly of the reminiscences of the Reverend John Ames, a third-generation Congregationalist pastor. While Ames’s father was a Christian pacifist, his grandfather was a radical abolitionist who rode with John Brown and fought in the Civil War. Among other things, the book traces the development of American Calvinism from the first half of the nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century. But what really makes reading Gilead such a moving experience is Ames’ love and gratitude for the fullness of life, the recognition of the sacred in the seemingly ordinary. In an interview, Robinson has said that “One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that…there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision.”
Michael Palmer is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the School of Divinity. He teaches courses on moral theory and ethics and topics in ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy. His published works include the widely-used Elements of a Christian Worldview, a study of Plato’s Cratylus, and articles on ethics, culture, and Pentecostal themes.