April 5 2018

Wheaton is hosting widely acclaimed author Marilynne Robinson April 4-6 as the keynote speaker for the 2018 Theology Conference entitled “Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson.” The conference will continue through April 6, and will be free for all Wheaton College students. There will be approximately 300 paid attendees, according to associate professor of theology Keith Johnson, who is serving as one of the conference chairs alongside professor of Christian Thought and conference organizer Timothy Larsen.

“Marilynne Robinson is arguably the greatest American novelist of the past few decades. She also is one of the most prominent essayists and public intellectuals of our time,” said Johnson. “It is a tremendous privilege and opportunity to have her on campus.”

Robinson was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in the world in 2016. Her Pulitzer-prize winning novel “Gilead” was Wheaton’s Core Book for the 2017-2018 academic year.

The conference will also include prominent thinkers such as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams from Cambridge University, Timothy George from Beeson Divinity School, Han-luen Kantzer Komline from Western Theological Seminary, Lauren Winner from Duke Divinity School, Patricia Andujo from Azusa Pacific University and Johnson, Larson, and Associate Professor of English Tiffany Kriner from Wheaton College.

“I’m thrilled to have Robinson come as a way to help us read together and consider together in the love of the Trinity,” said Kriner, who will be presenting a lecture titled “Space/Time/Doctrine: Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead Trilogy” at the conference and who is currently teaching a quad class called American Authors After 1945 focusing on the works of Marilynne Robinson. “Our Core Studies and Core Book program are founded on the idea that we need many disciplines and modes to consider big, enduring questions — What is the good life? What is a person? Who then can be saved? What responsibilities do we have toward our neighbor? Robinson’s novels and essays ask — and try to answer — those questions better than just about anybody these days.”

Another prominent theme of the conference will be treatment of race in Robinson’s novels, according to Johnson. Although the topic will come up in several presentations, Patricia Andujo will be specifically addressing it on Thursday during her lecture “Marilynne Robinson and the African American Experience.”

Robinson herself will be giving a plenary address on Thursday evening at 7 p.m.

Hundreds of students, faculty and community members already gathered to hear Robinson engage in discussion with Dr. Philip Ryken on Wednesday afternoon in Barrows Auditorium for “Many Ways to Live a Good Life: An Informal Conversation with Marilynne Robinson and President Ryken.” Robinson and Ryken discussed vocation, the liberal arts, predestination, writing and more in a Q&A format, followed by several questions from the audience to which Robinson responded. Judging by the overflowing auditorium at this event, the Wheaton community appears to be excited to host Robinson on campus and continue discussing her work.

According to Johnson, one of the highlights of the conference will be the dialogue between Robinson and Williams on Friday afternoon.

“Rowan Williams is perhaps the greatest living Christian theologian,” said Johnson. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Robinson and Williams in conversation with one another. This event is not to be missed.”

Several of the students in Kriner’s quad class shared what this opportunity to hear Robinson in person means to them.

“I’ve never been in a class before where we have had the opportunity to talk to the author him/herself as we study his/her work,” said junior Alice Gorman. “Robinson’s work is incredibly rich. It is rare to find contemporary fiction with Christian theology so infused into it.”

Sophomore Isabella Olfert said, “Robinson’s work has reopened my eyes to the beauty of the world. The books cause me to slow down and appreciate what is around me. But they also helped me look at race and Christianity in new ways, as well as the theologies we hold to and why.”

Timothy Larsen, who organized the conference, shared some of the motivation for his vision, saying, “When I was a student at Wheaton I was privileged to hear leading authors speak on campus such as Madeleine L’Engle and Frederick Buechner. I want to make Wheaton be that kind of place for today’s students as well.”

Students are encouraged to attend any or all of the conference sessions free of charge, hosted in Edman Chapel. A full schedule is available online.

Kriner said, “I hope that when Robinson comes, she finds that she need not ask these big questions alone. [I hope she finds] that our community in all its disciplines and diversities is thinking and asking right with her, as members together in the body of Christ.”