Visiting speaker explores life and death

The 38th annual Eunice Belgum Memorial Lectures were held on Thursday, March 9 and Friday, March 10. This year’s lecture series was entitled “Meanings of Life and Death” and was given by Edward Langerak, former chair of the philosophy department and now Professor Emeritus at St. Olaf.

The Eunice Belgum Lectures are held each year to honor the memory of Eunice Belgum ’67, a St. Olaf graduate in philosophy. Belgum also received a Ph.D in philosophy from Harvard, then taught at Trinity College and the College of William and Mary before her death in 1977 at the age of 31.

According to St. Olaf’s website, “The lecture series was established in the hope that Eunice’s tragic death would not end her impact on the profession, teaching and scholarship she loved so much. While the lectures may be on any topic, the philosophy department makes a special effort to choose topics in areas of special interest to Eunice, namely ethics, philosophy of mind and feminism.”

Langerak graduated from Calvin College and went on to earn his MA at the University of Michigan and his PhD from Princeton University. He taught at St. Olaf from 1972 until 2011, though he is still active in the St. Olaf community. He and his wife have led five student semesters abroad, including a trip to India in 2015.

The first lecture on March 9 focused on the “Meanings of Life”. Langerak organized the lecture around “The Myth of Sisyphus,” an essay by Albert Camus based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus eternally rolling a rock up a hill. Langerak then explored more philosophers and theologians, including Richard Taylor, Joel Feinberg and Susan Wolf, who addressed the myth of Sisyphus and its relation to the meaning of life.

Philosophy major Jacob Rothermel ’19 found the lecture very relevant and appreciated that Langerak looked at both his own views on the meaning of life as well as those of others.

“I enjoyed the way Professor Langerak guided the lecture with varying claims that led to his own view on the meaning of life,” Rothermel said. “Also, I thought what he had to say about the meaning of life hit hard, especially for a liberal arts student who experiences existential crises all the time.”

Langerak left time at the end for questions, and a reception followed.

The second lecture on March 10 was dedicated to “Meanings of Death.” Langerak followed a similar structure but this time presented views from theists and secularists on the meaning of death. Langerak cited philosophy department chair Charles Taliaferro’s essay “Why We Need Immortality,” bringing in a Christian perspective and arguing that the conversation between such disciplines is relevant to St. Olaf and the philosophy world even now. He read excerpts from Taliaferro’s essay that countered another essay by Grace Jantzen.

“Ms. Jantzen makes no suggestion that God is bored with either Godself or the world … If God has reason not to be bored or weary of a deathless life, why could not you and I find everlasting life of value in virtue of even a minute participation in the goods that God delights in?” Langerak read.

Both lectures can be found on the Eunice Belgum Memorial Lectures page on the St. Olaf philosophy department’s website.

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