The Maryville Symposium -- connecting faith and learning

December 8, 2008
Contact: Dr. Ronald Wells, Director of the Maryville Symposium

Over a delightful September weekend, with the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee as a majestic backdrop, Maryville College hosted its second-annual Symposium on Faith and the Liberal Arts.

This year, 55 scholars gathered to discuss the theme "Discerning a Moral Environmental Ethic." Dr. Holmes Rolston, III, who is widely known as the parent of environmental ethics as an academic discipline, was the keynote speaker for the Symposium and opened the event with his paper "Caring for Nature: From Respect to Reverence." In addition to work as distinguished professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, Rolston is also an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and once served a church in Bristol, Va.

"The idea behind the Maryville Symposiums is this: Each year Maryville College chooses a ‘big idea' that emerges from liberal arts education, especially in a church-related context," explained Symposium Director Dr. Ronald Wells. "Significant scholars of national reputation are invited to speak. And for two days, people from academic and religious life from throughout the Southeast come to have civil conversation."

Other scholars participating in the 2008 Maryville Symposium included Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger, the John Jacobson Professor of Religion at Hope College, who presented "Shalom and the Character of Earthkeeping." Scholars from Maryville College who presented papers and led plenary discussions included Associate Professors of Biology Dr. Ben Cash and Dr. Drew Crain; Professor of Religion Dr. Margaret Parks Cowan; and Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Mark O'Gorman.

Dr. Holmes Rolston, III, (left) keynote speaker for the 2008 Maryville Symposium poses with Symposium Director Dr. Ronald Wells and Maryville College President Dr. Gerald W. Gibson (right). Photo credit: Peter Coats

"Those who attended the conference and who look forward to seeing the presentations in print agree that the Maryville Symposium is becoming one of the ‘signature' entities at Maryville College," Wells said. "Undergraduate teaching is our most important job, but holding a high quality scholarly conference that offers difficult subjects in an atmosphere of openness and grace is no mean achievement.

"Moreover, inviting moral inquiry in scholarship that conjoins the spirit of the liberal arts in a context that values faith springs from the twin pillars of the College's identity and aspiration," he continued. "There is nothing quite like it in the liberal arts colleges of the Southeast."

In Spring 2009, the College will publish the proceedings of the 2008 Symposium (Vol. 2). The small book will contain Holmes Rolston's keynote address as well as the papers and invited responses by the other scholars.

To receive a copy of last year's proceedings ("Finding a Moral Compass in a Global World") or to be put on the list to receive this year's volume ("Discerning a Moral Environmental Ethic"), contact Ronald Wells at 865.273.8882 or

The theme for the 2009 Maryville Symposium – scheduled for Sept. 25-26 – is "Religion and the Public Life." For more information, visit

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.