Sorensen Lecturer E.J. Dionne seeks balance between individual, community

By Kelsey Dallas ’14 M.A.R.

Armed with humor and a passion for politics, E.J. Dionne gave the annual Sorensen Lecture at YDS on November 27.

DionneDionne, a twice-weekly op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, spoke on “Our Divided Political Heart and the Election of 2012,” describing the balance between individual and community needs that America has been trying to strike since the nation’s founding. Dionne called the reelection of President Barack Obama on November 6 a reaffirmation of the community spirit that has been threatened in recent years.

“This was the ‘We take care of our own’ election,” he said, citing this sentiment’s appearance throughout history and drawing laughs with an unexpected comparison between the Puritan leader John Winthrop and rock icon Bruce Springsteen.

“They both had the community in mind,” Dionne said with a smile.

Dionne, a practicing Roman Catholic, is a prominent political commentator who often writes on the intersection of faith, values, and politics. He has covered local, national, and international politics, including a post in Rome heralded by the L.A. Times as the best reporting on the Vatican in two decades. Dionne has published five books, including Why Americans Hate Politics (Simon & Schuster, 1991) and his recent title Our Divided Political Heart (Bloomsbury USA, 2012). Dionne is currently a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a government professor at Georgetown University. His Post column is syndicated in over 140 newspapers.

YDS community members who attended the lecture were pleased with the opportunity to hear a political voice in a divinity school setting.

“Lectures like this are very much a part of the mission of this school,” said Dr. John Collins, the Holmes Professor of Old Testament. “Our school wants to be engaged with public issues,” he added.

Debra Williams ’14 M.A.R. said that it makes sense for someone concerned with the intersection of individual and community values to visit the YDS campus. She noted, “What needs to be inserted in the current political dialogue…is where we’re going to land on the individual versus the community. The church has something important to say about that.” 

In his discussion of the current rhetoric of decline plaguing American culture, Dionne, like Williams, emphasized the potential within the church to help Americans feel confident again about their country’s future.

Audience“I invite people at Yale Divinity School to discuss what is the role of spirituality in changing people and changing society,” he said, asserting that reinvesting in the types of community projects that churches often support only stands to increase individual liberty. 

Dean Gregory Sterling acknowledged that a political voice like E.J. Dionne is not always welcome at institutions that must respect the varied opinions of a diverse student body. He explained his own sense that Dionne’s visit was crucial to YDS’s vision of inviting responsible voices to campus to “articulate particular views…without taking political sides as an institution.”

Sterling, echoing Dionne, emphasized the value of continuing to engage with politics during divisive times such as the election season. 

“Religion has played a very significant role in politics…and I think it is important for people to have a responsible understanding of religion and its place in the political sphere. That’s why tonight is important,” said Sterling. 

Click here to view a video of the entire 2012 Sorensen Lecture. 

Date Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2012 - 9:18am