Radical Irish Philosopher and Theologian Visits EMU

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Peter Rollins addresses the audience during his presentation.

Northern Ireland’s Peter Rollins visited the EMU campus on Sept. 25 for a day of presentations and a colloquium discussion. As part of the Emergent Church movement, his books confront the tendency for religion to use God as a means of avoiding real engagement with the material world. Rollins met EMU students Brad Mullet and Thomas Millary at “Subverting the Norm,” a theological conference in Missouri earlier this year, who were instrumental in inviting Rollins to EMU. EMU Senior Evan Knappenberger also donated money to help bring Rollins. “EMU needs Rollins’ spiritual soul- searching,” Knappenberger says, “now more than ever.”

The Bible and Religion department met and raised funds to find a way to bring Rollins to Harrisonburg for two days, where he also interfaced with Rise Church and the EMU Freethought Coalition.

Rollins – who is fundamentally a man of dualities – grew up in the Anglican tradition, which he describes as being “as Catholic as you can get while still being Protestant.” In seeking to overcome the traditional norms that govern religious identity, Rollins has formulated a new brand of philosophical theology influenced by various sources as diverse as Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek, Derrida and others. He has labeled this unique blend “pyrotheology,” and hopes his philosophic discourse will incite discussion “unveiling” what he sees as beliefs that are hidden behind “idolatrous” theologies.

Rollins also focuses on setting up communities of practice, which emphasize the possibility of embodied living in a material world. He also talks at length about the authentic realization of self and other.

During Wednesday’s chapel, Rollins shared thoughts on the “trauma of existence” and the notional reality that all humans are “haunted houses full of ghosts.” Using those metaphors he highlighted the need for humanity to accept the reality of the tragic in life – not just in one’s own life, but in everyone’s lives.

One participant in the Freethought event, Joshua Miller, described Rollins as a “fairly charismatic speaker; he talks about religion in a way most people don’t.”

Rollins also spoke at the University Colloquium on Wednesday afternoon. His talk focused around desire and wholeness, a theme addressed in two of his books: “Idolatry of God” (2013) and his forthcoming “The Divine Magician.”

He began by addressing the connection between magic and religion. He explains the three elements of a magic trick, the pledge, the turn, and the prestige as correlated to the presentation of the central message of Christianity.

He repeatedly referenced “the prohibition” or denial of a given object, something with direct relevance to the university, as it continues to explore community living commitments. The Law of Prohibition, Rollins explains, is often responsible for generating the very desire to break the law.

Overall, several hundred people heard Rollins speak. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the whole thing,” says Junior Emily Shenk, “I really enjoyed his use of visualizations.” The future, as Rollins would have it, is uncertain – and it is up to us to respond from a place of thought and love.

-Jacob Lester, Copy Editor; Photo credit, Randi Hagi


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