Philosophy, music take center stage in Town & Gown lecture

Providence Hall filled with the sounds of both lectures and song Monday night during the first of this year’s Town & Gown Lectures in a series focusing on Christian Perspectives on Death and Dying.

Justin Barnard, associate professor of philosophy and associate dean for intellectual discipleship, opened the evening with a talk on “Death, Resurrection and Bodily Identity” to not only the audience gathered in Jackson but to those live-streaming from the Hendersonville and Germantown campuses.

Barnard’s lecture focused on exposing his audience to the variety of Christian views on bodies and souls and their relation to the afterlife.

“The view you take on what kinds of beings humans are influences your view on life after death,” Barnard said.

He elaborated on Dualist (the position that humans are both body and soul) and Monist (the position that humans are simply made of one thing) beliefs while articulating something that some find a surprising assertion: it is possible to be an orthodox Christian while also believing that a person is simply a physical body.

Barnard refrained from sharing his own personal beliefs on the interaction between body and soul but emphasized that thinking through these issues has a practical effect on how we treat people in the here and now.

“If you think God will resurrect people, you will treat people differently,” Barnard said.

Chris Mathews, professor of music and department chair, followed up with a lecture titled “Sing Me to Heaven: Music in the Hour of Death.” Mathews was aided by the Chamber Choir from the University of Limpopo, led by Thabe Matsebatlela.

The choir sat among the audience, and when Mathews asked them to perform they sang as they rose, filling the room with a beautiful and powerful melody timed to the beat of their steps. Mathews punctuated his lecture with several moving numbers from the choir, including “Mohla Jesu a tla boa” a song written collaboratively by Mathews and Matsebatlela about Jesus’s triumphal return, where he makes the dumb speak and the lame walk.

This fit in well with one of Mathews’ main topics: the role that music plays in helping Christians cope with death and tragedy by drawing communities together.

Mathews played clips from both John Rutter and Amadeus Mozart’s respective Requiems, giving particular attention to the role that music plays in allowing us to contemplate and process death. Mathews shared how, in the wake of Olivia Greenlee’s death, Rutter’s Requiem “spoke to me.”

“This piece moves us from darkness into hope,” Mathews said.

Later on, Mathews led the gathered Union and Limpopo students in a communal singing of the hymn “Abide With Me.”

“When we sing together, we sing the church’s song,” Mathews said. “Our song: one of every tongue, tribe and people.”

The next lectures in the series will take place on next Monday, April 11, at 6 p.m. in Providence Hall Room 160.