I really hate to belabor this point, but I still cannot understand why Matthew Fox has been invited to speak at ECU this fall at our annual Jarvis lecture series. I received this in an email today:
Matthew Fox, the next Jarvis Lecturer, was prohibited from teaching in the Roman Catholic Church. That is a part of his story, and it is important for understanding both his life and his writings. Bringing Fox in for the Jarvis Lecture, however, does not imply on the part of the Religious Studies Program, or on my own part, any particular view of Roman Catholicism. I wanted to make this point up front, because his unhappy relationship with the Pontificate in Rome will come out both in the summaries of his life and work that I provide over the next couple of months, and perhaps in his presentation.
I can sort of buy this, I guess. While I don’t think ECU’s religion program is outright hostile to Catholicism, inviting someone like Fox is in some way, however minimal, a legitimization of the things he says about Catholicism. And that’s really all he has – every book we read of his last semester was basically whining about how everyone doesn’t understand how much of a genius he is. Inviting him to a serious, scholarly forum only legitimizes his whining as ‘scholarly.’
The main criteria that guide the selection of our speakers is that the person be a recognized and respected scholar and that they have the ability to communicate well to the diverse Jarvis Lecture audience. Of course, they also have to be affordable on our tight budget.
If this is their main criteria, they should drop Matthew Fox and find someone who is “a recognized and respected scholar.” Who is out there taking Matthew Fox seriously? Who is out there championing him as a ‘respected scholar’? Unfortunately, I think someone like Fox is being brought to this lecture series (a series which has had such speakers as Marcus Borg, Lawrence Cunningham, and Walter Brueggemann) because of the shock value of Fox’s statements and nothing more. His attempts at scholarship have been mostly ignored, and when noticed, have been critiqued pretty severely. See, for instance, Barbara Newman’s critique of Fox’s revisionism of Hildegard’s life and thought. There are basically two ways that would legitimize Fox’s invitation: 1) He becomes a scholar and starts doing the work of a scholar 2) The lecture series stops saying that it is an academic forum and instead begins inviting people who are just shouting loud enough.
I’m ashamed that my alma mater is providing a platform for this kind of nonsense.