PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARTHUR TRESS
On the evening
of November 27, 2001, more than 1,100 students, faculty, and interested
members of the Greater Boston community streamed into the cavernous
John Hancock Hall in Boston's Back Bay for a public conversation
on a topic that had gained urgency during the preceding months:
Evil. The occasion was the second annual dialogue on "Belief
and Non-belief in Modern American Culture," sponsored by Boston
College and the Atlantic Monthly.
The formal topic was "Evil: The Artist's Response," and
speaking were three of America's literary lights: the novelist and
essayist Joyce Carol Oates; the poet and chronicler of monasteries
and small towns Kathleen Norris; and the short-story writer Nathan
Englander. Journalist Christopher Lydon moderated.
The Boston College/Atlantic Monthly series takes its inspiration
from a celebrated annual public event sponsored in Milan by the
archbishop, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini--an event known as "The
Chair for the Non-Believer." It is Martini's contention that
"there is in each of us--whatever our religion; even in a bishop--a
believer and a non-believer." Over the years, Martini has invited
to his cathedral philosophers, psychiatrists, politicians, and poets
to talk about their work, as viewed through the prisms of belief
In Boston a year ago, the discussion was of medicine and of the
meaning that doctors may derive as witnesses of suffering and healing
(BCM, Winter 2001).
Excerpts from the latest Dialogue installment, on evil and the way
artists respond, begin on the next page.