STORY BY GRACE ROGERS
The Comparison Project returns to Drake University this week with the first lecture of the spring semester.
Students will have the opportunity to hear Professor Craig Owens speak on the literature of Samuel Beckett on tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Sussman Theater.
“The Comparison Project is an annual speaker series that involves lectures by scholars of religion, dialogues by practitioners of religion, special events, and comparative panels by philosophers of religion,” Professor Timothy Knepper said, the director of The Comparison Project and a scholar of philosophy and religion at Drake University.
“So we focus on a theme and then we explore that theme in different religious traditions,” Knepper said.
For the past two years, the lecture series has focused on the concept of ineffability or that which cannot be put into words. Past speakers have come from a wide variety of religions.
However, Owens is not a professor of religion. He is an English and Drama professor.
His examples of ineffability in Samuel Beckett’s literature should bring a unique aspect to the Comparison Project.
“Over the course of his long career, Beckett’s work continued to push against the limits of language’s capacity to express profound, deeply engaging ideas,” Owens said.
“His characters are frequently either at a loss for words or unable to control the flow of words coming out of their mouths,” Owens said. “Many of his characters suffer from a constant stream of words — sentences, fragments, half-formed questions —running through their mind. And his own prose style became increasingly sparse and minimal as he wrote. So, it seems to me that Beckett’s writing offers us a specifically literary as opposed to philosophical way into the questions the Comparison Project’s series raises.”
“We wanted to look at cases where there’s a claim that something’s ineffable where it doesn’t belong to what’s properly considered religion,” Knepper said. “So this shows up with regard to music, with regard to poetry, literature and art, and we’ve done lectures on those phenomena each semester as we’ve gone through.”
Ken Kuniy is a sophomore at Drake University, who has attended several of the past Comparison Project lectures.
“I appreciate the Comparison Project because it tries to bring in all of these diverse and interesting religions, cultures, beliefs to Drake,” Kuniy said. “To me, there’s a great value in that. It increases your understanding of another person, another human being. I’ve realized that religion is something that shows us how similar we are rather than how different.”
While it may seem that the Comparison Project only applies to students of philosophy or religion, it has universal applications.
“The Drake Mission promises a learning environment that fosters collaborative learning and the development of meaningful personal lives,” Owens said. “Students who attend events like these get the chance to see collaborative learning at its best, and to take part in the dialogue, debate and inquiry they encourage.”
“I think that running short of words, failing to find words for things we want to say or things we feel is a common human experience, and I think it’s an important human experience,” Knepper said. “We often turn words away from the things that we find most important or things that are just too sensitive. So from my perspective, there’s just something very human about the subject of ineffability, and I would hope that anybody could learn more about themselves from it.”