Tonight, medieval and modern worldviews are up for debate at The Camp House.
As part of Theology on Tap, Vanderbilt University Ph.D. candidate Rachel Early will deliver a talk titled “The Medieval Imaginations of Tolkien, Lewis and Sigrid Undset,” which explores the intricate methods by which the authors incorporated medieval thinking into their fiction.
The ongoing lecture series is scheduled for 7 p.m. with time to order dinner and grab a beer or coffee and find a seat before Early begins her 45-minute lecture, which will be followed by an intermission and a 20-minute question-and-answer session.
This is not your parent’s theology
Cole Hamilton, who organizes Theology on Tap, explains that “theology” is a bit of a misnomer.
“It's not textbook theology,” Hamilton said. “The way I describe the topics is that they are not things which are of interest to only Christians, but topics which are of concern to Christians. That gives me a lot of freedom to choose topics and speakers.”
As such, the program is varied enough to include a discussion about the possibility of just war and a discussion of whether America was founded as a Christian nation. Hamilton hopes to expand the series’ range even further in the fall with topics like ecological ethics.
The Chattanoogan first encountered Theology on Tap when he was living in Boston as a student of Harvard Divinity School. Hamilton, who also holds degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Covenant College, attended a popular version of the national event at The Church of the Advent and brought the idea with him when he came back to the Scenic City.
More than 30 U.S. cities, ranging from New York City and Chicago to New Orleans and Tuscaloosa, Ala., host local chapters of the lecture series.
Running from August to April and occurring roughly once a month, Theology on Tap has featured student scholars and professors such as John Fea of Messiah College to speak on the Christian roots in America’s birth and Vanderbilt University Ph.D. candidate Jonathan Warren to speak on the modern relationship between Catholics and Protestants.
Hamilton noted that the audience mirrors the broad and diverse nature of the event’s theological overtones. Though the event is sponsored by the Mission Chattanooga—an Anglican congregation—and North Shore Fellowship—a Presbyterian church—it draws a crowd from outside those churches, those denominations and the Christian faith in general.
That hybrid character added to the setting makes Theology on Tap a rather unique Chattanooga event.
“This is an event for young adults' social occasion as much as it is an opportunity to hear a stimulating lecture,” Hamilton said.
A medieval inclination
By discipline, Early is a medievalist with a focus on 12th-century French poetry. Though her lecture is a bit of a step outside of her Ph.D. track, she is interested in exploring how 20th-century authors and thinkers utilized medieval thought.
Tonight’s talk will focus on the fiction of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Norwegian Sigrid Undset and their push back toward a medieval interpretation of the world.
“A lot of what they were trying to do was open the eye of the reader to this older way of viewing the world, which was larger and broader,” Early said.
Characterizing a medieval philosophy as “larger and broader” might seem a contradiction in terms, but as Early explained, the authors were reacting to the enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, during which a very basic sense revolved around self-realization.
“Instead of agreeing with the enlightenment, they believed in seeing things of the world as pointing to God, as pointing beyond themselves to God,” Early said.
The next Theology on Tap—“Transcending ‘Ironic Hell': David Foster Wallace, Douglas Coupland and Sufjan Stephens”— is slated for Feb. 12 with Mary McCampbell of Lee University.
A full schedule is posted on the Theology on Tap's Facebook page. The Camp House is located at 1427 Williams St.