Texts Sacred and Canonical:
Their Circulation in Public Culture
A Symposium to Honor Professor Ralph Williams
on the Occasion of His Retirement
About the Symposium
This symposium will honor Ralph Williams, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature, as he ends a career spanning some five decades at the University of Michigan. Over that time, having taught thousands upon thousands of students (in some years close to a thousand alone) in large lecture courses on Shakespeare, on the Bible, and on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, he has become one of the more famed, more sought after, and most beloved professors on this campus. He has over his time here done as well stupendous service outside the classroom. One might note—observing just the recent past—his crucial role in maintaining our continuing relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as his serving as an important ambassador to off-campus communities of alumni and other well-wishers to this university, not just here in Michigan but across the United States.
The symposium will take place Saturday, April 10, 2010, at Rackham Graduate School. The keynote speaker will be Sarah Beckwith of Duke University, the author of a recent book on the York Corpus Christi plays and currently at work on a book dealing with the transformation of sacramental culture in medieval and Renaissance drama, centering on Shakespeare. Subsequent speakers will include two of Ralph's former students, Eric Jager of UCLA and John Parker of the University of Virginia. From our own university there will be Gabriele Boccaccini (Near Eastern Studies), Sherman Jackson (Near Eastern Studies), Alexander Knysh (Near Eastern Studies), Michael Schoenfeldt (English), Karla Taylor (English), and Theresa Tinkle (English).
The symposium will be concerned with the kinds of scholarly and pedagogical issues and questions that arise out of the study of religious writings, e.g., the Bible and the Koran, compared to, say, the works of Shakespeare, in public institutions such as this and other state universities. In organizing the symposium around this theme, we clearly are focusing on matters of central importance to Professor Williams's scholarly interests and teaching career. In structuring this event we will be concerned to produce an occasion that will interest not only faculty but graduate students and undergraduates, as well as people outside the academy. We intend it to be a significant educational event, one that will engage a wide and variegated audience and allow for maximal participation. Thus, along with the usual panels of speakers and ensuing periods for questions and discussion, we plan to provide opportunities for considerable informal interaction among panelists and attendees, making the event as participatory as possible. Given Professor Williams's wide reputation and considerable following, we expect that this symposium will attract significant numbers of people from off-campus.