Austin Scholars, Professors Heading to International Conference on St. Augustine

Students from the Austin Scholars living-learning community are traveling with professors to Tunisia from Nov. 8-15. They will have the opportunity to celebrate St. Augustine's birthday in Carthage where he studied and taught more than 1,600 years ago while representing the College at the “Journées augustiniennes de Carthage.”

The conference will center on the “thought of St. Augustine” and its relevance to challenges the world is facing today, including the unprecedented number of displaced people worldwide, said Joseph Kelley, professor of religious and theological studies and director of the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations. The conference will also address issues such as climate chaos and how humankind is responding to the effects of climate change; as well as how world religions coming from different faiths can work together for the benefit of all humanity.

Attending the conference will give students the opportunity to learn more about St. Augustine and develop an appreciation for the interest that people from other countries and religions share in the saint, Kelley said.

Kelley will be joined by Sister Jeanne Gribaudo, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a professor of practice who leads the Austin Scholars program;  assistant professor Emma Polyakov, of the Religious and Theological Studies Department; and professor Arthur Ledoux, of the Philosophy Department.

“To walk where Augustine walked during several of his formative years, to do it with people very interested in applying Augustinian insights to our times and to do all this with friends and students from Merrimack is a wonderful opportunity for us all,” Ledoux said.

Kelley, a preeminent scholar on St. Augustine, is honorary president of the conference and will present a paper on St. Augustine’s response to refugees; Ledoux will present a paper on St. Augustine and the climate crisis.

“I think that this trip provides a unique opportunity for students and faculty to travel together into a cultural setting very different from our own here at Merrimack, which is invaluable for opening one’s horizons,” Polyakov said “This was also St. Augustine’s own North African setting, and it’s a rare opportunity to travel together to a place where St. Augustine lived and studied, and to participate in an international gathering of scholars dedicated to exploring how St. Augustine’s teachings may be applied to the world today.”

The trip will help students understand St. Augustine’s values as they apply in the 21st century and on a global scale, said Sr. Jeanne. The trip is similar to a conference on St. Augustine that Sr. Jeanne, Kelley and three students in the Austin Scholars program attended in Bogatá last spring.

“They are going to where Augustine taught and lived, they are going to experience what an academic conference is about,” Sr. Jeanne said. “There are all sorts of new things they will experience.”

Kelley worked with the Tunisian non-government organization Atlas to prepare the conference, as well as the French non-government organization Via Augustina along with the Tunisian government and the Cultural Institute of the Italian embassy in Tunis.

Student participation in the conference is supported by a generous grant from the Flatley Foundation.


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