In Lieu of a Lecture

By now (whether over the course of reading this blog or researching elsewhere) you probably link St. John’s with the seminar method of teaching: one table, twenty or less chairs, twenty or less curious thinkers, orderly discussion and the whole nine yards. But perhaps you’re unaware that every Friday night in the fall and spring semesters, and every Wednesday in the summers, we allow some variation in the method: lectures by faculty or visiting professors, translators, or political scientists.

Well, not every Friday: besides the occasional holiday or concert or theatrical performance (by St. John’s own King William Players), one Friday each semester is reserved for the All-College Seminar. For one night, tutors, students, and staff members congregate round the (now proverbial) table to probe a short text revealed at the top of the week. This semester’s text: “Of the Coming of John” from W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk.

noose-e1539802787979.pngThemes of racial inequality among and within races, education’s gift and curse, freedom’s doubtful existence — all packed into fifteen pages, Du Bois’ narrative essay was practically begging to be discussed by eager Johnnies. They were not disappointed.

Brandon Wasicsko, AGI’19, called last Friday “one of the top five seminars I’ve had at St. John’s.”

“The material, of course, was profound enough to elicit burning questions from everyone around the table, but the mix of ages and outlooks was what really amplified the depth of our conversation.”

Besides these seminars, informal study groups are another way graduate students and undergrads, faculty and staff, even alumni and townspeople, join up to Johnnie provoking works, some from the curriculum, most off.

This year, for example, there were study groups on Aristotle’s Physics, Joyce’s Dubliners, Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins, A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon, the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the best of Spanish poets, and masterpieces of the painting medium, among others.

What provoking work are you begging to Johnnie?

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