MC Community Conversations Series explores "Connections"

MC Community Conversations Series explores "Connections"

Sept. 7, 2012
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer

This fall, Maryville College’s Community Conversations Series will explore “Connections” with presentations by three special guests.

A delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, a religion and theology professor, and a nationally recognized ecologist will talk about connections in this fall’s series, which gets underway Sept. 27.

All events are free and open to the public.

Community Conversations is an annual lecture series conducted to facilitate conversations and discussions between members of the entire Maryville College community, citizens of Blount County and surrounding areas, College alumni and prospective students.

The fall theme will continue during the spring semester with a film screening and speakers who will further explore ways people are connected, said Dr. Kelly Battles, assistant professor of English and chair of the Community Conversations committee.

“Our theme points to the incongruity that has meant that despite a society that is increasingly connected by technology, economic trade and travel, we may be becoming more fractured and disconnected,” Battles said. “Political discourse encourages extreme partisanship, and we are sliced into demographics by political analysts such that our identities are boiled down to media-friendly labels like ‘soccer mom’ or ‘Nascar dad.’

“The promise of social media to bring friends together through constant digital communication has instead led to a rash of journalists asking, in the words of a recent Atlantic article, ‘Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?’ The powerful economic forces of globalization have pushed people farther apart even as consumer goods and natural resources flow more freely than ever across borders.

“Set in contrast to these divisive elements, our series this year explores the powerful potential for human beings to make connections with each other,” Battles continued. “Speakers and film screenings will address topics including religious pluralism and cross-religious dialogue, the changing nature of human relationships in the digital age, the importance of communities coming together to protect their natural resources, whether in Appalachia or the Chilean Andes, and how individuals can become more involved in the political process. Pushing towards greater understanding among people, the importance of community, and the power of collective action, our events this year all emphasize the common thread of ‘Connections.’”

Preston Fields, a Maryville College alumnus, will open the series on Sept. 27 with a presentation about his experience serving as a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month.

The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in Fayerweather Hall’s Lawson Auditorium on the Maryville College campus.

Fields, director of community engagement for the Center for Campus Ministry at Maryville College, earned bachelor of arts degrees in religion and international studies in 2003 from Maryville College. Just after graduation, Fields began working in Washington in the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Within a year, he was serving as the media director for East Tennessee for Kerry.

In 2004, Fields returned to Maryville as the College’s intern for service and mission, and in 2005, he was promoted to director of volunteer services. In 2010, he was named director of community engagement. Among his many goals for the position are elevating service-learning and community-based research in the curriculum and strengthening and creating more partnerships among service agencies.

Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The Sept. 27 non-partisan event will focus on the political process and aims to inspire people to get more involved in the political process and civic engagement in general, regardless of party affiliation or political leaning, Battles said.

“It is very exciting to have one of the members of our Maryville College community serving on an national level as an official delegate to the Democratic National Convention,” Battles said. “His talk exemplifies our theme of ‘Connections’ because it shows individuals can become connected to the political process beyond the voting booth.”

Juan Pablo Orrego Silva, an internationally recognized ecologist from Chile, will give a presentation on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall. The event is jointly hosted by Community Conversations, the Maryville College Bonner Scholars program, Maryville College’s Program for International and Civic Leadership (PICL) and the Cargill Foundation.

Silva is the president of the Santiago-based non-governmental organization “Ecosistemas” and the international coordinator of the Patagonia Defense Council. In his work, he focuses on the funding, design and deployment of a campaign for the defense of Patagonia’s environmental integrity in the face of plans to build the largest hydroelectric complex in Chilean history, which is associated to the world’s longest transmission line.

Silva, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree and a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University in Toronto, Canada, is one of the founders of the “Action Group for the Biobío,” a grassroots organization which led for 11 years (1990-2001) the emblematic campaign for the defense of the Biobío River in south central Chile – and of the rights of the Pehuenche indigenous people who inhabit the river’s watershed – targeted for the building of a large hydroelectric complex. For this campaign, he received the Goldman Environmental Award in 1997 (United States) and the Right Livelihood Award in 1998 (Sweden). In 2003, he served as the international coordinator of the No Alumysa campaign against an aluminum smelter projected in Patagonia.

Silva will work on a research project with Maryville College students concerning the impact of energy production (mining and dams) on the ecology and social fabric of communities, comparing Chilean Andes and Appalachia, according to MC Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Scott Henson, who recently returned from a research trip to Chile with several Maryville College students. During the trip, Henson and the students began filming a documentary about the impact of hydroelectric dams on the indigenous people and ecology of a main river system in Chile. An excerpt of the documentary will be premiered during Silva’s presentation.

“The experiences of people in the Chilean Andes in terms of trying to protect their natural resources from exploitation can be connected to the local concerns about Appalachian mountaintop removal and other ecological concerns,” Battles said. “We are connected because of how these dangers are present for all of us, and we all must be vigilant in our communities to take action and protect our natural resources.”

For more information about Silva’s visit, please contact Henson at 865.981.8260 or

Dr. John J. Thatamanil, associate professor of theology and world religions at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, will give a presentation on Mon., Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall.

The presentation, titled "The Way, The Truth and the Life: 'I am' Sayings in The Gospel of John and The Bhagavad Gita," is also part of the College’s “Bible Grant” speaker series, which is designed to address topics related to the relevance of the Bible to contemporary issues and concerns.

Thatamanil is the author of the 2006 book The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament. An East-West Conversation and is currently completing his second book, titled The Promise of Religious Diversity: Constructive Theology After “Religion.” He is a past president of the North American Paul Tillich Society (NAPTS), co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Theological Education Committee, and project director of the American Academy of Religion’s summer seminars on “Theologies of Religious Pluralism and Comparative Theology.” He teaches a wide variety of courses, including “Process Theology,” “Tillich and the Future of Theology,” “Hindu-Christian Dialogue” and “Comparative Theology.”

“John Thatamanil is a leader in the rapidly maturing field of comparative theology, who seeks to understand the truth about divine matters through respectful argument and conversation among the religious traditions of humankind,” said Dr. Andrew Irvine, associate professor of philosophy at Maryville College. “Dr. Thatamanil is a challenging and compassionate teacher celebrated by students, and a scholar recognized in church and academy, especially for his deep acquaintance with Hindu and Christian thought. He will share an expert understanding of the Gospel of John and the Bhagavad Gita [Hindu Scripture]; he will exemplify a humble search for meaning in light of connections between those two scriptures.”

On Tues., Oct. 9 at 1:15 p.m., Thatamanil will speak during Maryville College’s weekly community worship service at the Samuel Tyndale Wilson Center for Campus Ministry. The theme of this semester’s worship series is “Citizens of the Kingdom.”

For more information about Thatamanil’s visit, please contact Irvine at or at 865.981.8237.

For more information about the fall Community Conversations series, please contact Battles at 865.273.8877 or

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 1,197.