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ISSUE 121 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/9/2007

Scholar elucidates existentialism

By Elizabeth Mitchell
Staff Writer

Friday, November 9, 2007

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the St. Olaf College Hong Kierkegaard Library hosted its second annual Julia Watkin Memorial lecture in the Trollhaugen dining room.

The featured lecturer this year was professor C. Stephen Evans. Cynthia Lund, acting curator of the Kierkegaard library, said that the speaker for the event is a Kierkegaard scholar who knew and worked with Julia Watkin personally.

Evans is currently a professor of philosophy and humanities at Baylor University.

He has also previously taught at Wheaton College (1974-1984) in Wheaton, Ill. and at St. Olaf College (1984-94), where he served as Curator of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library and taught in the Philosophy Department.

His most recent position before Baylor was at Calvin College (1994-2001) in Grand Rapids, Mich. where, in addition to teaching philosophy, he served three years as Dean for Research and Scholarship and was the inaugural holder of the William Spoelhof Teacher-Scholar Chair, Calvin's first endowed chair.

Evans has published single-authored books as well as five edited volumes, approximately 80 professional scholarly articles and several articles in popular publications.

Evans's lecture was titled "Søren Kierkegaard: Father of Existentialism or Critic of Existentialism?". He discussed the traditional reading of Søren Kierkegaard as the first existentialist, and argued that Kierkegaard is in fact a great critic of existentialist philosophy.

In his argument, Evans called existentialism a "broad term," one that is difficult to define. For his purposes, he defined Jean-Paul Sartre as the prime example of an existentialist, and his ideals as the perfect model of existentialism.

"When you have a difficult term like existentialism, you have some freedom defining it," Evans said. Sarte, an atheistic existentialist, believed, as he stated in his book "Existentialism" that "there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it."

Using this example, Evans argued that Kierkegaard was not an existentialist because not only did he believe in God, he also believed that there was in fact a discoverable truth -- and that it could be found through subjectivity.

To explain this, Evans offered a quote from Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript: "When the question about truth is asked objectively, truth is reflected upon objectively as an object to which the knower relates himself & when the question about truth is asked subjectively, the individual's relation is reflected upon subjectively. If only the how of this relation is in the truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth."

Evans used numerous quotes during his talk, which he provided on a handout, to explain his points. While some were from Jean-Paul Sartre and Alasdair MacIntyre, most were from Kierkegaard's own writings.

"If you spread enough good Kierkegaard quotes in your talk, you'll definitely do something worthwhile [with the lecture]," Evans commented.

After his speech, Evans took questions from the audience, which was primarily composed of fellow Kierkegaard scholars and other scholars of philosophy.

The Hong Kierkegaard Library is open from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, during the school year, and is open by appointment.

The next special event planned for the library is a symposium titled "Kierkegaard and Death". It is scheduled for Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. in the Kierkegaard Library and Buntrock Commons.

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