PCPH to host Slavoj Žižek and Jean-Pierre Dupuy talk

The Portland Center for Public Humanities at Portland State will host Slavoj Žižek and Jean-Pierre Dupuy in a talk titled Is God Dead, or Unconscious, or Just Evil on Friday, Oct. 31.

Doors will open in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom at 4 p.m. The event is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. A large attendance is expected, so arrive early.

The two scholars will be in conversation with one another on the quandaries of violence, religion and the sacred. They will explore the intersection of faith and secular culture in the political sphere.

The event is sponsored by the Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging Project, which links PSU, University of Arizona, Utrecht University, Tel Aviv University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong through their respective humanities centers.

The event was funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and written and arranged by the former chair of PSU’s English department, Lee Medovoi.

Dr. Michael Clark, head of the PCPH and a longtime PSU professor, said that this event has been years in the making.

Medovoi began the grant proposal nearly a decade ago with an interest in the secularization thesis, which made the claim that society would become increasingly secular and religion would fade into more private spaces. Years later, that has not proven entirely true.

“If you have strong beliefs about, let’s say, care for the elderly based on your faith and you lead a generally secular life, that faith-based notion might have profound implications on your sense of political belonging,” Clark said.

Known to refer to himself as a prophet of enlightened doomsaying, Dupuy is a social scientist and professor of French and political science at Stanford University.

The author of nearly a dozen books, his most recent work The Mark of the Sacred is a reflection on religion and reason in society, and argues that humanity is on the verge of self-destruction because it has put too much faith in reason and lost contact with its sacred origins.

Clark said that Dupuy pushes for a reaffirmation of the sacred origins of human reason as a potential remedy to earthly crises, like environmental toxicity and global warming.

“He’s interested in the sacred in society and how it manifests itself. He’s trained as a logician and scientist,” Clark said. “This is not some new age mystic, he’s very down to earth.”

Žižek is a philosopher and one of the world’s most renowned living social theorists, inspired by the extensive work of Theodor Adorno and Jacques Lacan. He has dedicated his life to cultural critiques and ideology, and spent much of the past decade examining the legacies of religion and spiritual thought.

Often referred to as the Elvis of philosophy, Žižek’s last public appearance in Portland in 2008 attracted hundreds to a filled Powell’s City of Books. He’s been characterized as eccentric, sardonic and brilliant.

He’s unique in that he is just as likely to analyze the films of David Lynch or The Sound of Music as he is the meaning of existence.
Sarah Gaspari, a senior majoring in film studies, said she’s been looking forward to this talk for weeks after watching The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, a film featuring Žižek currently popular on Netflix.

“His ideas were unlike anything I’m familiar with. They’re so abstract, but then he uses contemporary examples that make them far more accessible. He was really captivating to watch,” Gaspari said. “I don’t know much about Dupuy, but from what I’ve read it’s going to be great hearing them work off one another.”

Clark said reading Žižek is like going to a carnival.

“You’ll find something fun and interesting every time. [He’s] a restless scholar and that’s a good thing,” Clark said.