E.J. Dionne on campus for humanities center speaker series

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of E.J.  Jr.


KALAMAZOO—A high-profile Washington Post columnist will lead off when the University Center for the Humanities launches its 2012-13 speaker series at Western Michigan University.

E.J. Dionne Jr., author and well-known columnist, will be first up at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, and will address the nation's political polarization just days before the Nov. 6 presidential election. His presentation, titled "The Election and Our Divided Political Heart," is in Dalton Center Recital Hall and is free and open to the public.

Three other accomplished writers will be waiting on deck to tackle such thorny issues as what the outcome of the election means for science policy, the politics of race and democratization efforts in Islamic countries.

The speaker series is themed "Power and Publics" and was inspired by this year's presidential race in recognition of how elections dramatize the dynamics of power while mobilizing the public to participate in the democratic process.

"I think this is very important for the Kalamazoo community," says Dr. Katherine Joslin, a WMU professor of English and center director. "The mission of the Center for the Humanities is to define and recognize the humanities across the University and the community, nation and world. The humanities touch everything, and we need to nurture the involvement of humanistic thought."

Bringing Dionne to Kalamazoo on the cusp of a very important presidential election, as well as the three speakers who will follow in its aftermath, is one way to fulfill that mission. The WMU Department of Political Science and its chair, Dr. John Clark, played a key role in selecting Dionne as the commentator of choice to dissect this year's presidential election and general mood of the electorate, Joslin says.

Joslin also credits the center's advisory board for the overall success of this year's series and, in particular, singles out board member Dr. Lofton Durham, assistant professor of theatre, for coming up with the series' theme. Durham is one of three relatively new WMU faculty members who, along with Joslin, were instrumental in bringing a center for the humanities to fruition.

E.J. Dionne Jr.

In addition to being a longtime and highly regarded columnist, Dionne is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at Georgetown University. His presentation will follow along the lines of his latest book "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent." The book explores the tension between individualism and community throughout the nation's history. Dionne argues that maintaining a balance between these two ideas is the responsibility of all Americans, but the current idealization of radicalized individualism embodied by Tea Party members and others threatens the equilibrium.

Dionne's earlier works have garnered widespread acclaim. His book "Why Americans Hate Politics" won the Los Angeles Times book prize and a National Book Award nomination. He also is the author of "Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era" and "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right."

Dionne is a nationally known and respected commentator on politics and has appeared weekly on National Public Radio and regularly on MSNBC and NBC's Meet the Press.

Upcoming presentations

All presentations in the humanities center series will be at 6 p.m. in Room 2008 of the Richmond Center.

  • Nov. 29: Chris Mooney, a science and political journalist, blogger, podcaster and experienced trainer of scientists in the art of communication, "Political Science 2012: What the Election Means for Science Policy on Climate Change and Beyond."
  • Jan. 24: Dr. Harry J. Elam Jr., the Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities and Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education at Stanford University, "The Power and Politics of Performing Race."
  • Feb. 29: Dr. Jocelyne Cesari, professor at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, "Islam and Democratization: Lessons Learned from the Arab Spring."

For more information, visit wmich.edu/humanities.