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tv   [untitled]    February 12, 2012 5:30pm-6:00pm EST

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the indian case. >> keeping it theological, i would guess mays, thurman, and king all felt gandhi would be in paradise. that he didn't have to do anything else to be saved to get into paradise. which means they are looking at -- >> it's the same sort of thing. >> i think so. i think your comment on ethics is right on. because, for mays, god has to be an ethical force in the world and, you know, you've got to look at the 20th century. great moment in the 20th century is 1917, the russian revolution. and will the world go into a violent revolution such as russia was and a civil war or is there another methodology? and one of the things i was struck by is that at howard at
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the school of religion was the center of this talk about gandhi. between mortechai johnson who calls gandhi the little brown man and is this -- this is the way we can have a social revolution that meets up with the idea that we don't want to destroy human personality. we don't want to destroy human personality. if we are religious people, we want to enhance personality. if we have like in russia, we will destroy human personality. there is discussion at howard school of religion that this is the kind of ways that a revolution has to be fought in the long run, a revolution has to be empowered through this force -- sole force that keeps
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human personality intact. war destroys relationships, period. how do you bring those back? that was a theological concern for thurman, mays at howard and more for the students. i really want to push that with all three of these persons working at the issue of community. not only from an ethical perspective but from a deeply theological perspective. it's not an approach as the need to indoctrinate doctrine and dogma for one's ethical engagement, it's an embodied theology and the process by which one is
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entering into diversity with other faiths, religions. people with multiplicity of ideas of approaches. the approach to working at building community is grounded in a theology that is taking the issue of personality which is usually. -- crucial to king's approach in boston personalism, and thurman and mays, and how one can engage in the conversation and advance the conversation in ways that are both faithful to one's theological grounding without violating another person's sense of identity which includes, for many, faith orientation. >> it's very interesting. martin was very much committed to the idea of personalism. he was very drawn into the philosophy of personalism.
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if you look at this. which is sourced from france it comes from hano, goes into people like munier and we get it on this side of the pond. it's terribly important for him. could you comment a little bit on how this works for mays? this personalism as an ethical concern? we know that mays has this ethical orientation. is it connected intellectually to the personalism that so influences martin? >> well, mays is not like sheffield, brighton, boston, a personalist, but mays' experience is, i mean, he opens his own auto biography saying my first memory is of a mob. my father is attacked and made to cowtow for fear of his life.
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and mays, like thurman, both of them are rooted in the deep south. we can never take that away from them. they both experience the terror of the deep south in the way terror distorts the personality. if you have to kowtow, that distorts your personality. they almost seem like the narrative of douglas. douglas says the first time they are trying to beat him, he's almost going back in his head that his personality is being dimmed. that's how they see jim crow. jim crow is such a violent act on black people that it distorts
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their whole personality. for mays, if there's going to be a god, god has to enhance the human personality and the vitality to live. so both thurman and mays grow up in the south. thurman in florida, mays in south carolina. and thurman's grandmother always told him, you know, that god -- i'm roughly paraphrasing. did not make him a nigger. if there is some kind of god and these -- both mays' mother is the deep spiritual one and thurman's grandmother are these men's mother, there is something about the personality. so that experience comes out. they resonate to the intellectual forms but it comes out of their lives. >> the quote, luther, that you gave from thurman, the truth is in religion is in religion because it's true and is not
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true because it's in the religion. do i have that right? >> not true just because it is in a particular religion, yeah. >> i would guess that both mays and dr. king would agree with the quote. >> yes. >> so connect how you see their interfaith this the discussions we have for interfaith is also a discussion going on about multi faith. interfaith is something different. and the search for being comfortable with the particular as i'm searching or accepting
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the particular but recognizing that the goal is universal and i guess still with regard to my particular circumstance and particular faith. how does that feed into it -- their thoughts? >> i would say that you have to see both mays and thurman growing. i don't think they are these interfaith people at first. first of all, they are dealing with prejudice because they are protestants and catholics. you've got to start there. >> who's a catholic? >> within christianity, there is a 16th century revolution called the protestant reformation. they're dealing with those issues. they are very much in a black,
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protestant world. i think we shouldn't forget that. they are trying to expand. they don't have -- it's not our language today. they don't have the language guided by theology. they are trying to push the language of a protestant theology further than i think, you know, most people would have been comfortable with. so mays is trying to sort through what does hinduism mean? what does islam mean? they are meeting and encountering people in the christian tradition. the eastern orthodox tradition. they are trying to sort out this sort of big picture. it's not the kind of world of the university of chicago religious studies program where we kind of do this comparative of analysis. they come up through both of them are black baptists.
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and rise up and are trying to push language and ideas as they encountered them and experienced them. >> that's the point. i'm thinking it feels like they didn't have to go through the multi phase stage. they sort of jumped beyond it to know there is a universal and that everybody is working to get there whether they know it or not. >> i think for thurman there is a matter of interfaith is probably informed through dealing with racial reconciliation. at morehouse, there is a lot of
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evangelical language in thurman's letters and way of speaking in articles he writes. sounds very evangelical. when he goes to seminary and has to room with a white roommate which causes him to rethink all of the categories of race he's had and to try to make sense of how this has to be thought of in terms of ethical boundaries. keeps white people outside of his boundaries and ethics refers to how do you relate to other black people. as he reconstructs his way of understanding racial relations, there is a broadening taking place with people of different faith traditions. to the point that when he graduates and when he establishes the church he begins to work at what is fundamentally common to all of us with our various theological and church traditions.
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in his late 20s now, this is early. from the time he's leaving the church in oberlin, ohio, there is a man who comes up to him. he's chinese, buddhist who says to thurman, i want to thank you. when i experience the worship services i feel like i'm in my homeland in my buddhist temple. thurman says i'm doing something right. he expresses this matter, it is years later before i could put language to it, continue to work out the contours of it. but there's a strong connection i think between racial reconciliation and the kind of inclusive community we are talking about in terms of interfaith and multi faith
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communities. >> i'm sure this is right. the business of sociological determination so to speak of all three of the figures is terribly powerful. it tends to trump certain types of religious niceties which in other circumstances you might be concerned to pay close attention to. i think you're dead on, luther, that the racial experience is what informs the outlook of all of these men in a very fundamental way. >> which is really important. really important. >> we're going to take questions from the audience as they are getting situated for that. let me ask one other thing. after dr. king's death was there an ongoing relationship between thurman and mays? >> they remained friends until thurman died in 1980 and mays dies in 1984.
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they are ongoing. >> i know dr. mays became the chairperson of the atlanta board of education. >> right. >> where was dr. thurman? >> in san francisco. >> okay. so we have covered a lot of areas and we have a mic here. we'll open it up for anyone who would like to offer a question or a comment. just comment very brief, questions. so come right up to the mic. >> you can always tell a morehouseman, but you can't tell him much. we have a morehouseman about to ask a question here. maybe make a comment. >> i have a question. first, i want to thank you all for the panel. it was most engaging. this conversation could go on
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for the night and you would have our attention. thank you for your depth of knowledge, not just on thurman and king individually. you have all commented on all three figures and how they relate to one another. my question is the relationship between kind of their interfaith perspective and their interdisciplinary perspectives. i think each one of them as academics and scholars shows themselves to be widely read, working across the disciplines, between disciplines. i wonder if you can speak to that aspect of their life and maybe how it points to something in them, not just theologically, but as to their entire outlook on the world and breaking down boxes and barriers wherever they may be. >> very good question. >> one of the things i don't think there is a lot of credit for. mays writes a book called the negro's god as seen through its literature. now we have lots of literary
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studies about the way people use religion in literature or the ways expressed. this was a ground-breaking approach. he had no teachers who knew about the subject. i was amazed by that because i think the book is problematic at times. as i read it as a scholar now. but as i read it, i am also reading how he extends himself to say through african-american literature we can understand theology. and that's a pretty ground-breaking and seminal approach to theology. in the late 20s and dr. smith can speak more about this. you had people like katie cannon borrowing from alice walker. here's mays with no -- there ain't no black studies program at the university of chicago.
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so this is a really seminal kind of thing and thurman as well. >> the last full book he wrote before his autobiography is entitled "the search for common ground." in that book, he's drawing upon myth, science, looking at the nature of the self. in biology he's looking at sociology. he's certainly looking at current events, but the range of disciplines that are informing his effort to define the meaning of common ground to the human enterprise. for thurman, what informs this is the understanding that truth is not only located in religion, but it's located wherever god's creation is. that god is in creation for thurman as well as god transcends creation, both.
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that god is not entrapped in creation, but you can then see how for thurman, every person has this sacred status that you can't say god is in her, but not in him. or god is in that group, but not in this other group. every aspect of creation -- it's pan enthee is it can, as god only in creation, but every expression of creation has god embedded in it. so the search for truth will naturally turn to the discipline. science for thurman is not in any way antagonistic to the religious enterprise. they can go hand in hand in pursuing god. what thurman would warn against is the arrogance of science to
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think as if it has the only approach as well as the arrogance of religion to assume that it's traditions have the only answer in terms of the search that is never ending. >> of course, there's always science on the one hand, which is a judicious appreciation of what is the case than the investigation of such questions. and then there is scienti isismt suggests in a limited way you can understand everything. if you take martin from an early age, at morehouse, what did he major in? soes eeology. he got a c i think in philosophy. there you go. in the case of statistics, he almost took as far as one can
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tell a moral view towards it that it was a kind of deformation of real understanding of what's going on. only trying to say i think there's a humane orientation which makes him want to explore the big picture and if he were to be anything on the scientific picture it would be the physicist, interested in the big bang, right. einstein as eye monotheist, but that would integrate everything but it would say that there's certain types of number crunching activities which can kill the soul and that by all means we do not wish to do. there are limits as to how far. >> to each of you, thank you for providing an informative lecture. i'm roman johnson from memphis,
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tennessee, and my question is directed to dr. king. currently martin luther king's life is perpetuated in both academic and public spaces. for example, king had a sexist world view and did not give proper attention 20 many women who worked tirelessly in the southern freedom movement alongside him. do you agree with this statement? if so, how do you deal with the human martin king? >> i think the first thing we have to do is to be charitable. everybody has his limitations. if you look at earlier books by me, i readily say his and her's. we talk about man. later on, you change that because you weren't really thinking. yes, you mean by man, everybody, but that's not what you are saying.
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martin grows up in a society where he -- remember, our's is a very sociable society. after a point under oppressive circumstances, you lose that, you lost everything, and sociability has to follow certain forms. you look at the early malcolm x and early mlk. i don't mean to draw a tight connection there. there is a business of acting out certain forms of interaction which have you speaking in a polished way, speaking in an accustomed way, and trying to excite the interest of folks and the other sex. martin obviously did that. but i don't see that that is what one should be obsessed about. the important thing is the trajectory of growth which is demonstrated in this life. it's always not just a life, but an interaction between the
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individual, but also the communal. martin obviously has very deeply embedded ideals about improvement, about humanitarianism, about egalitarianism, which are contradicted by which is what he finds around him. he would easily have been your lawyer. he would have had a good bedside manner. he could have gone into medicine, which he contemplated at one point. he wanted to do something different, and he was extremely good at it, and he grew enormously in the process. i don't think that it's all together -- if you were taking someone like many of your mystics who start off with this orientation, you don't see growth.
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you just see someone as what they are. st. francis of assisi would. they are staying on the course that they are set upon. that is not a question of growth. that's not einstein's growth. that's not martin's growth. so you do have this movement. >> i want to also take a stab at that. king is like me. they are men of their generation. so, they have clay feet just like everybody else. martin king wasn't the exception of sexism. if you asked the great civil rights lawyer and later priests, paulie mare must mary, thurgood marshall, charles hamilton houston, they all prevented her from excelling at howard
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university law school. sexism said jane crowe instead of gym jim crow, it was all around. part of it was pushing the movement. this is why it was called movement. pushing further than the bounds people wanted to go. it was jim crowe, but these women knew there were jane crowe. then other people came along and said, if two men or two women or whatever, the boundaries of democracy should be for everybody. everybody has entitled to the right to live in a democracy. and so the boundaries get pushed. clearly king -- ella baker said this about king and all black preachers. they were used to being in control. they were the spokesman for the community. you know, you ask every black
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preacher who really runs a church and they will tell you, don't make the deaconess mad. you can make the deacon mad but you better not make the deaconess mad or you won't have a church. there is a give and take going on there. king was part of his generation sexist. if i watch rap music, it ain't too much better. we have the possibility of growth. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> this is probably our last question. yes, sir. >> fortunate for me. thank you. good evening. i would like to thank morehouse college for holding this important forum. i'm a visitor to campus. i'm larry rivers. i teach at augusta state university. as soon as i heard about the panel and the dynamic scholars on it, i made plans to drive down i-20 to be a part of it. my question is for dr. jelks. a number of the former members
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of martin luther king jr.'s inner circle, particularly reverend jesse jackson and james lawson say dr. king made little secret of one day seceding dr. mays of morehouse college. reverend lawson says it seemed that at one point, dr. king thought he could be the president of morehouse college. and maintain his position as the foremost international spokesman symbol of the civil rights movement. of course, we know that didn't happen. i'm curious based on your research, have you seen dr. mays say anything specific about the possibility of a future role for dr. king on the morehouse campus? >> i think mays absolutely saw king as a spiritual son. i think he hoped that someone of king's statue would be able to succeed him. he had a trustee board and we don't know what they thought.
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he certainly hoped that martin -- say had the montgomery movement stopped right there. martin would have been the perfect candidate to become president of morehouse college. the zeitgeist pushed him forward so that was not a possibility. there was a tension between mays and king because martin king wanted to be on the trustee board and some of the trustee board members didn't want king on there. mays couldn't quite deal with the politics of it well. it was only when king won the nobel prize that he could become a trustee for peace. you know, there are internal politics to morehouse college, too. >> thank you. i appreciate it. >> any other insight on that?
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>> i think i'll leave it. >> we have really been blessed to have these three outstanding scholars with us. dr. randall jelks, associate professor of african-american studies at the university of kansas, dr. luther smith, professor of church and community at emory university and dr. preston king, visiting professor of political philosophy, the leadership's center and department of political science. dr. mays would often say every man and woman is born into this world to do something unique and something distinctive. if he or she doesn't do it, it will never been done. we thank god much for the three of you and for your scholarly work with mays, thurman and


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