Marilynne Robinson at the Symposium for Spiritual ProgressPulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson participates in a session at the Symposium on Spiritual Progress in Philadelphia. Photo by Simon Oosthuizen

On October 15-17, the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey held an international symposium to foster interdisciplinary dialogue on spiritual progress. The forum was an invitation-only event that brought the insights of major thinkers, which included Lord Jonathan Sacks, Marilynne Robinson, and Robert Bellah. The forum was chaired by our very own host Krista Tippett at Benjamin Franklin Hall of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

Thankfully, the symposium recorded Marilynne Robinson's conversation with other scholars during the symposium about her book Absence of Mind. In this first clip, Ms. Robinson says that "we have to accept our human exceptionalism" and sees it as "our human burden" and "not our boast":

And, here Ms. Robinson shares how she's been influenced by John Calvin and how his theology offers "a profound individualism and a profound sociality at the same time":

The complete audio of this symposium will appear on the Center of Theological Inquiry's website later this year.

Share Your Reflection



Krista, will you interview Marilynne Robinson for On Being? Pretty please?

Trent Gilliss's picture

Angela, you'll be delighted to know that Krista did and we just podcast the episode last week! It's titled "The Mystery We Are" and I hope you enjoy it.

I like what Marilynne Robinson says about Calvin. Its good to hear he say a 'Thou' in every encounter. However, I bristle when she terms it a burden, recalling the White Man's Burden. For me she suddenly makes clear the perspective the NYT is written. Cognitive knowledge gives rise to power to decide, say, the fate of lesser species or savages. She gets as far as seeing that ancient cultures might not have demeaned the intelligence/being of animals to the extent of experimenting on them. But she does not see the absence of humility and the claims to power that is inherent in exceptionalism. There is a phrase, something to the effect of "the mind is the last to know", meaning that outer faculties, instinct, the body etc may 'know' what the mind cant. My network Chiropractor tests my muscles for their memory for answers my mind knows nothing about. Perhaps we need to admit more often what we dont know. Like a flock of birds that know when to turn, or perhaps like the ancients in China who studied animals -the praying mantis - to copy them, and develop effective martial techniques, perhaps this will bring us closer to what Calvin saw in every encounter, rather than the self inflicted privilege to rule, to systematize, to retain hidden a bellicose seed in our hearts, hidden beneath the illusion of exceptionalism.

And when we encounter anything that exists - not only man - that must surely also be true. The more one learns about the natural world - the living and the inanimate - the more astonishing everything becomes. Stars, too, of course, as well.

Great, thanks. Looked for MR on the web and found this site which told me exactly what I was interested in (in the far north of Australia). The sound clips worked exactly as they should.