"Satan" shares from his blog in Distinguished Scholar Award Lecture
Sometimes silly and sometimes serious, but always as "Satan,” Elon University professor Jeffrey C. Pugh read excerpts from his new book Thursday as part of the 2010-11 Distinguished Scholar Award Lecture before taking questions about the way evil is described in Devil’s Ink: Blog from the Basement Office.
Pugh’s presentation in the LaRose Digital Theatre took place two weeks after Fortress Press published his fifth book. Devil’s Ink is a series of blog posts written in Satan’s voice to show how humans have constructed institutions and systems – whether political, economic or religious – in such a way that evil has been able to take root without much notice.
“Most of our culture thinks of evil as something people do,” Pugh said. “We often don’t think of it as something implanted in the orders of existence.”
Pugh selected excerpts that dealt with the power of memory to “construct future justifications for slaughter to hide present guilt;” the dark side of modernity, with the danger posed by rationality, technology and efficiency; and the way religion can blind people to their own hateful actions.
He also read a selection from the book in which Satan rejoices at the splitting of the atom and the nuclear bomb humans devised with such a discovery. As Satan, Pugh argued that Hell couldn’t believe its fortune when humans celebrated the same development.
Even more surprising to Satan was the moral justification humans used for dropping the bomb. Pugh points out that Satan doesn’t care about the "why" – he simply rejoiced in the fact that it happened.
“Evil is elusive. It’s hard to define,” he said in his opening remarks. “And the human landscape is filled with attempts to come to grips with our history of violence and our slaughter of one another.”
Pugh is the 11th recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award, established in 2000 to recognize a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect and who has made significant contribution to his or her field of study.
He joined Elon’s faculty in 1986 after earning his master of divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and another master’s and doctorate from Drew University Graduate School in Madison, N.J. His graduate research focused on systematic and historical theology, and he continued that work after arriving at Elon.
His ambitious research has produced four books that seek approaches to religious and Christian studies that have both historical and contemporary relevance.
Those books are: Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times in 2009; Entertaining the Triune Mystery: God, Science and the Space Between in 2003; The Matrix of Faith: Reclaiming a Christian Vision in 2001; and The Anselmic Shift: Christology and Method in Karl Barth’s Theology in 1990.
At Elon, Pugh has served two terms as chair of the Department of Religious Studies. In 2000, he won the university’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching and, in 2006, he was named a Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies. He has made numerous presentations at professional meetings and conferences and written articles, book chapters and book reviews for various publications.
Thomas Tiemann, a professor of economics, lauded Pugh’s work in a formal introduction. “Jeff was always one of Elon’s great classroom teachers,” he said. “But he has shown he can also be one of Elon’s most productive scholars.”