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Elshtain lectures feature Harry Potter, higher ed, more

Political philosopher Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain discussed the presentation of good and evil in the Harry Potter book series, shared her insights about ways to mentor women in higher education, and discussed Christians’ methods of engagement in public life during her time at Abilene Christian University Thursday.

Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, spoke several times at ACU as part of the Centennial Speaker Series, which concludes April 25 with a luncheon featuring leadership expert John Maxwell.

She interacted with students in classes in the morning, spoke to faculty at a luncheon, discussed mentoring at an afternoon women’s forum, and was the keynote at an evening lecture.

Elshtain explained that Americans have always been very comfortable with theological language, but she said the world has begun sanitizing religious language out of public discourse, replacing “sin” with “syndrome” and “evil” with “broken,” for example.

“We need a reinvigorated sense of sin and evil,” she said during the evening lecture.  “If you look at history, there is one instance after another where ‘evil’ seems to be the only way to describe the situation.  How do you express the horrors of evil?” she asked, referencing the atrocities in Nazi Germany and recent acts of terrorism in the United States.

Elshtain summarized St. Augustine’s view of evil, explaining, “He rejects the notion that God created evil as equal to good.”  She described evil as parasitic, and used the analogy of a knot on a rope: “Evil is a twistedness of the rope, but it requires the rope to exist.  Evil can only take away from good.”

In the popular Harry Potter books, which Elshtain has spent many years reading with her grandchildren, children learn that you must name evil; that you must not flee from evil, but confront it; and that love, kindness, friendship, trust and humor help banish evil.

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