WMU News

Noted author speaks on beliefs linking pain and evil

October 22, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- A noted author and lecturer returns to Kalamazoo Wednesday, Nov. 4, to give his views on cultural beliefs that link the forces of evil with pain and suffering.

Dr. David B. Morris will speak about "The Fate of Evil: AIDS, Pain and Suffering" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, in the Kirsch Auditorium in the Fetzer Center. His presentation is part of the Bill Burian Lecture Series, which is sponsored by Western Michigan University's College of Health and Human Services in memory of Burian, founding dean of the college, who died in 1988 after a brief illness.

The lecture is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception and book signing.

In the lecture, Morris will point out that evil once provided a primary explanation for pain and suffering. After drifting away from evil as an explanation for suffering in modern times, contemporary thinkers are redefining evil in ways that link it, once again, in a new configuration with suffering.

This postmodern construction of suffering -- a suffering mostly inseparable from pain -- contrasts sharply with earlier views and finds a basis in the work of physicians and social scientists who offer a concept of "social suffering," Morris says.

Such modern-day diseases as chronic fatigue syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder show a cultural, as well as biological, way of becoming sick, Morris notes. Postmodern medicine should make no distinction between the two and demands a "biocultural" model.

AIDS, because of the suffering and pain it generates, provides a strong illustration of the paradoxical postmodern state which has witnessed both a revival of fundamentalist notions of evil and the emergence of a new vision of suffering and pain as intrinsically social, Morris says.

Morris is returning to Kalamazoo after living here in the 1980s and forming a close friendship with Burian. It was then that he also wrote his acclaimed volume "The Culture of Pain," which was published in 1991. Subsequently translated into German, Spanish and Japanese, it also was selected for a prestigious PEN prize.

He has lectured and written on pain for medical and non-medical audiences, including an award-winning article in "Arthritis Today." He has given addresses to the American Pain Society, American Academy of Pain Medicine and American Society for Pain Management Nurses. He currently serves as associate editor of the journal Literature and Medicine.

His latest book, "Illness and Culture in the Postmodern Age," published earlier this year, describes some of the ingenious, confusing and distinctive ways society is coming to understand illness as always created at the crossroads of biology and culture.

Earlier in his career, as a scholar of British literature, Morris wrote numerous essays and two prize-winning books -- "The Religious Sublime" (1972) and "Alexander Pope: The Genius of Sense" (1984). He resigned his tenured full professorship in 1982 to write full time. His 1995 book "Earth Warrior" tells the story of a voyage he took with environmental activist Paul Watson in the North Pacific.

Morris has taught at universities around the nation and has held fellowships from, among others, the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies. He holds a bachelor's degree from Hamilton College and a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota.

The Burian Lecture Series is supported by an endowment fund established from contributions to the College of Health and Human Services in memory of its former dean. Previous lecturers have included philosopher and writer Parker J. Palmer; Richard Lamm, former governor of Colorado; and Dr. Henry Foster, Clinton nominee for Surgeon General of the United States.

For more information about the lecture, call Hazel Starcher at 387-2654.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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