I’ll be lecturing in Baltimore on Monday, January 29, and in Denver on Tuesday, February 6. You might stop by, if you live near and haven’t anything better to do—like cleaning out your closets, or washing the dog, or finally writing that letter to your Great-Aunt Mabel. The topics will be familiar to readers of First Things . In Baltimore, I’ll be speaking about mortality, and in Denver about the curious role Catholicism plays in American public life these days.

For several years now, in a slow, circuitous way, I’ve been thinking about death—not dying, so much, as the role that death plays in various forms of human thought. Ethics, art, politics, psychology, metaphysics—what difference does the knowledge that we can die make? What difference does the knowledge that we will die make?

So, for example, in accounting for human behavior, game theory makes much of the risk of death in various activities. But how are actual human behaviors influenced not just by the deadly risks of certain activities but also by the inescapable human knowledge that, regardless of all activities, death will come anyway? And how are we influenced by the knowledge that all those around us can and will die? Slowly, as I’ve worked on these topics, I’ve come to the understanding that the death of others, more than the death of ourselves, remains the supressed premise in huge swaths of human thought.

Various friends have been kind enough to let me come present various portions of all this in an academic setting, as I try to work it out. So, for instance, last year, I lectured at the University of Tulsa on the purposes of the death penalty ; at Princeton University on the role of death in politics ; and at Boston College on the effects of mourning in Shakespeare .

Anyway, on Monday, January 29, I’ll be presenting another portion , a consideration of the influence of the knowledge of death on political rhetoric, at Loyola College in Baltimore. Called “Graves & Government: What Death Is Good For,” the lecture will be from 4:30 to 6:30 in the 4th Floor Program Room of the AWSC building. The event, I understand, is open to the public.

The next week, in Denver, I’ll be following up on my long First Things essay from October, ” When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano ,” to think my way through some of the effects of America on Catholic culture, and Catholic culture on America. Called ” Christ and Culture: The Strangeness of the Catholic American Situation ,” the lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, February 6, at 7:00 p.m. in Bonfils Hall at the John Paul II Center, 1300 S. Steele St., in Denver. It’s open to the public, and if you’ve finished that letter to Great-Aunt Mabel, it might be worth dropping by.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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