Symposium honors the retiring Grover Zinn
The Grover Zinn symposium lasted for two only days. Bu, Religion Department Chair James Dobbins has been planning this event all year because this is the first time in 27 years a member of the department’s faculty has retired.
However, it’s been nearly 40 years since Grover Zinn started his career at Oberlin, a career that incorporated teaching and administration in his dual roles as the William H. Danforth professor in the religion department and as former associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The symposium was titled “Mysticism, the Bible, and Medieval Religious Experience” and supported by the Mead-Swing Lectureship Society and the May Lectureship Fund. It lasted from Sept. 23-24 and incorporated a keynote address on Friday night, two Saturday presentations and a culminating banquet later that day.
Of the six speakers at the symposium, four were former honors students of Zinn’s, each of whom, according to Zinn, “has established him or herself as a distinguished scholar in the field.”
One example was Arjo Vanderjadt.
“[He is] one of the top medievalists in the Netherlands, and an internationally known scholar,” said Zinn.
This former student gave a keynote address called, “‘As a hart longs for flowing streams’: Joining the two testaments in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”
The two Saturday morning presentations were titled “Interpreting Medieval Religious Experience” and “Interpreting the Bible in the Medieval Ages.” Recordings of the keynote address and Saturday morning presentation will be available in the library archives.
Grover and Dobbins chose to focus the symposium on medieval studies not only because this is Zinn’s specialty, but because the topic is growing to include many new points of focus. These include the treatment of sacred texts, the study of art in popular places, the role of women and the question of inter-disciplinary.
“[Also including the] interaction in the medieval period of Jewish, Christian, Islamic religions — how they literally collide and elide,” said Zinn.
Six faculty members and Zinn’s two children gave tributes at the commencement banquet on Saturday night, which approximately 100 people attended. These speeches were particular triumphs.
“The net effect of all tributes was that everyone left the banquet thinking Grover was a medieval saint,” explained Dobbins.
Zinn was both pleased and honored by the symposium.
“Everything ran very smoothly. We had a fascinating set of papers and well-attended sessions,” he said. “It was a focal point of a very important transition in life, between life as a teacher/scholar and the next stage of my life. It was a way of encapsulating my career in terms of students with whom I worked. I felt very honored that the department would organize something like this for me.”Dobbins also felt the event successfully culminated Zinn’s distinguished career at Oberlin.
“In a sense, those 48 hours were a convergence of many faces and voices
from over [Zinn’s 40 years at Oberlin]. Only Grover could process those
into one integrated moment.”