JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 14, 2007 – A miniature statue of David stands on the patio of Union University art professor Jonathan Gillette’s house as students trickle in for a meeting of “The Society for Critical Imagination.”
Inside, more than 20 students sit cross-legged on the floor of the living room and face a PowerPoint projected against one of the walls.
Every Tuesday Union students gather to listen to speakers discuss topics varying from Edgar Allan Poe to Bob Dylan. The meetings sometimes go as long as three and a half hours.
On the evening of Oct. 16, Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture, spoke on the topic of science and imagination in the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The lecture brought to light some of the myths surrounding Edgar Allan Poe and highlighted some of the scientific ideas apparent in much of his work.
Obviously, something is resonating with Union students. The speakers include Union faculty as well as students. Ben Farrow, junior international business and French major, said he appreciated the line up of topics and presenters.
This is not the first event that Gillette has held at his home. Farrow said he thought the “movie nights” at Gillette’s house during the spring semester were the beginning of the society.
Gillette and Christian studies professor Taylor Worley started the society to talk about topics in which they were both interested. Though Gillette could not point to one specific reason as to why the society was started, he said he and Worley would probably still have the meetings even if no one came.
“There are things in the world we cannot necessarily wrap our heads around immediately,” Gillette said.
The society is one place for discussion on such issues. Gillette explained the “critical” in the society’s title is a positive thing, and means questioning.
He said it is “unhealthy” not to question and to blindly accept things the culture says. Asking questions is a part of the society meetings. Attendees regularly converse about an hour and a half in a group discussion, according to Gillette.
“The intention for the society is to help students begin to engage, from the Christian worldview, the contemporary art world,” said Mark Inman, junior art major.
The society’s creed says it provides a forum for discussing issues “pertaining to the arts” and looking at them from a Christian perspective. The goal is to develop people into cultural thinkers.
The society uses the term “art” loosely, encompassing almost all aspects of culture. Gillette said he uses art to describe almost anything one could see on a day-to-day basis.
“I feel there is more art in everyday life than there is in a museum,” Gillette said.
Worley said sometimes people have a tendency to view culture as a separate entity, but don’t always realize that they are a part of culture. One of the goals of the society is to make people “aware of the way we are already using culture,” he said.
Gillette emphasized the need to consider the questions individuals are asking, rather than make culture into one category.
“When we look at the culture, yes, there are different questions that arise more than others,” Gillette said. “But the fact of the matter is that we are not looking at a culture, we are looking at individual people.”
The discussion on Oct. 9 was Damien Hurst, an atheist who makes art involving religious symbols. Gillette said even Hurst describes his own work as a search for meaning to life.
Gillette said fear of interaction is an issue in the U.S. culture, citing e-mail as some examples of how people disconnect themselves from dealing with other people.
Gillette also used “Second Life,” a role-playing game where people live out other lives on the Internet, as an example of how human interactions have digressed.
“Those are major questions -- ‘What is reality?’ -- because everything is so removed from us,” Gillette said. “We are taught by advertising to not perceive any type of reality, to desire a life that cannot be constructed.”
This is not only a major question people are asking today, but is also something that holds people back from asking questions and trying to understand individuals in the first place.
Worley said some people might feel so intimidated by the art world that it can cause a lack of dialogue.
“I think the people that are coming would be in agreement that if we really think Christ is Lord over all, there is no conversation or dialogue that we should be intimidated to enter,” Worley said.
He also cited the importance of fostering growth in the attendees. He said the idea was to make people the most excellent among individuals, in “various aspects of culture.”
By Matthew Lowell ('08)