About the Lectures

The Westminster Tanner-McMurrin Lectures on the history and philosophy of religion were established at Westminster University of Salt Lake City in 1987 as a means of bringing major scholars—in the fields of history and philosophy of religion—to deliver public lectures and conduct seminars on basic issues in religious thought and practice.

The lecturers are appointed for the national and international recognition of their scholarly achievements without regard to ethnic, national, religious, or ideological considerations.

The lectures are open to the public without charge. The lecturer may conduct seminars in which others who have special interests relating to the subject of the lecture participate by invitation. They are published and made available to libraries and the general public, or they will be published in electronic form and made available, free of charge, for reading by any interested person.

The lecture is administered by the President of Westminster University, who chairs a select committee which is responsible for lectureship policies and the selection of the lecturers. The Lectureship is funded in perpetuity by an endowment gift from the late Dr. Obert Clark Tanner, formerly professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Utah, and the late Grace Adams Tanner. The Lectureship is named in honor of the late Dr. Sterling M. McMurrin who was the E. E. Eriksen Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Utah, and a former US commissioner of education. Dr. McMurrin was a trustee emeritus of Westminster University and a former colleague of Dr. Tanner in the Department of Philosophy (University of Utah).

The Lecture series was inaugurated in the Fall of 1989 by Professor Martin Marty (University of Chicago, Emeritus). More recently, lecturers in the series have included Rene Girard, Michael Walzer, Diana Eck, Arvind Sharma, Michael Doyle, Elaine Pagels, Seyla Benhabib, Rabbi David Novak, and Sr. Helen Prejean.

Over the past 15 years, encouraged and advised by Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, daughter of O.C. and Grace Tanner, Dr. Michael Popich has expanded the scope of the endowed lecture series to include other occasions of public discourse as worthy of support by the lecture endowment. We trust that in diversifying our support for other forms of public discourse as we have, and as these are described above, we are still adhering to the spirit of the endowment so graciously provided by Obert and Grace Tanner. Support has been provided for events open to the public at the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, and Salt Lake Community College.

Past Lectures

In his forthcoming book, The Afterlife of Race: An Informed Philosophical Search (OUP, fall 2023), Lionel McPherson argues that the perpetual stigmatized, wealthless condition of Black America is best understood as a caste phenomenon. Caste calls attention to intergenerational nature and national specificity of the Black American situation, rooted in inherited slavery and enforced segregation; “race,” by contrast, traffics in flat blackness. As McPherson explains it, race intrigue functions as a distraction—from the subjugation, exploitation, and non-repair of the historical American “Slaves” caste—by (mis)directing focus to some global antiblack racism phenomenon of lesser importance.

Drawing on her work on the American criminal punishment system (The Limits of Blame: Rethinking Punishment and Responsibility (Harvard, 2018)), Erin Kelly explains that the politics of blame tracks American caste. That is, it adheres to the subordination of Black Americans as descendants of American slavery. The stigma conferred on Black Americans works by merging distinctions between act, person, and group, which practices of harsh punishment encourage. The result is normalization of mass criminalization and incarceration, as well as denial of equal democratic citizenship to Black Americans as a group.

Joel H. Rosenthal is president of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is also adjunct professor at New York University and chairman of the Bard College Globalization and International Affairs (BGIA) program in New York City. He received his PhD from Yale University and B.A. from Harvard University. As a scholar and teacher, Rosenthal has focused on ethics in US foreign policy, with special emphasis on issues of war and peace, human rights, and pluralism.

His first book Righteous Realists (1991) is a study of Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan, and Reinhold Niebuhr, among other American realists. His edited volume Ethics and International Affairs: A Reader (Georgetown University Press; 3rd edition, co-edited by Christian Barry) is a compilation of essays from major figures in the field and is widely used in college and university courses. In 2016, he was appointed Dorsett Fellow at Dartmouth College.

His numerous national and international awards include the Distinguished Scholar Award from the International Studies Association in 2019 for his life-time achievement in International Studies and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Social Science from the University of Edinburgh. He is the editor-in-chief of the Carnegie Council’s flagship journal, Ethics and International Affairs, published by Cambridge University Press. Its articles have appeared over 1,100 times in hundreds of university syllabi in 28 countries.

This lecture investigates the climate of simmering anger that disfigures most modern democracies, expressing itself in blaming and targeting of unpopular groups. Nussbaum argues that a philosophical analysis of anger and its roots in the experience of powerlessness can help us as we move forward. Beginning with an example from Greek tragedy in which retributive anger is refashioned into constructive work and hope, she will focus on the role of retributive desires in most instances of everyday anger. She argues that the desire for payback is counter-productive since replicating the offense does not correct it. She then looks at the roots of retributive desires in experiences of helplessness. She argues that there are just one species of anger that can help us as we move forward. Called “Transition-Anger” because it faces toward the future, it has the following content: “How outrageous that is! It must not happen again.” This type of anger eschews retributive thinking in favor of constructive work and hope. She shows its relevance by studying the U. S. Civil Rights movement and the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, appointed in the Law School and Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago. She is an Associate in the Classics Department, the Divinity School, and the Political Science Department, a Member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She received her BA from NYU and her MA and PhD from Harvard. She has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, and Oxford University.

Professor Nussbaum is an Academician in the Academy of Finland, a Fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. In addition to her numerous national and international awards, she has received over 60 honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Her books in philosophy, law, education, gender studies, and other related areas are among the most important and influential publications in these fields.