Cutting for Stone author, nonviolence advocate headline Christian Scholars Conference

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*** Photo on home page is the cover art from "Cutting for Stone," by Abraham Verghese, published by Vintage.

cutting for stone

Lipscomb University presented the 2012 Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference on June 7-9. The conference hosted 500 scholars and faith leaders from over 100 different universities engaged in 100 paper, panel or performance sessions. Participants explored the theme “Reconciliation: At the Intersection of Scholarship and Practice.”

Five special events were open to the general public exploring the reconciliation theme with nationally known speakers, film and theatre.

For a full schedule of the conference go to



Locals were invited to rub elbows with some of the nation's top thought-leaders

Some of the nation’s top thought-leaders in reconciliation were among more than 500 scholars and faith leaders representing more than 100 universities from around the country as part of the 32nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference, which took place at Lipscomb University June 7-9.

The conference brought together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines in the liberal arts, sciences and professional schools to develop their own academic research and to reflect on the integration of scholarship and faith. Participants and presenters came from the nation’s top universities including Yale, Notre Dame, Cornell, Duke and Harvard.

“This year, the interdisciplinary conference brought together scholars from medicine, law, theology, literature, ethics, political science, fine arts and other critical areas of expertise for collaboration and civil discourse on topics related to reconciliation,” said David Fleer, professor of Bible and communication and director of the conference.

“These interdisciplinary sessions allow literature to speak to law; fine arts is in conversation with political science; and theology is at the table with law, justice and society. It makes for invigorating dialogue; communication that is at once civil, critical and hopeful for a shared and mutually constructed future,” he said.

The conference has a history of drawing a diverse range of nationally respected authors, artists and scholars as plenary speakers, including John Patrick Shanley, Marilynne Robinson, Jim Wallis, James Elkins, Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne.

This year’s conference featured keynote speakers Fred D. Gray, civil rights attorney; Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian and international nonviolence advocate; and Immaculée Ilibagiza, Rwandan genocide survivor and author of “Left to Tell.” In addition, more than 92 peer-reviewed paper, panel and performance sessions convened academics to advance scholarship, develop collaboration and engage dialogue.

Session topics ranged from “alleviation of poverty as reconciliation” to “questions of reconciliation in Terrance Malick’s film ‘The Tree of Life.’" Reconciliation was traced through the civil rights movement in the U.S., Rwanda, Ireland, the Holy Land, cross-cultural missions, literature, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, business, the Hebrew Bible and the writings of Volf and "Cutting for Stone" author Abraham Verghese. 

This year’s conference also included an exhibit of selections from the The Green Collection, a compilation of more than 40,000 biblical antiquities assembled by the owners of national retail chain Hobby Lobby. The Green Collection is the world’s newest, largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts.  

The Green Scholars Initiative is a program to foster undergraduate research with these biblical artifacts. Studies in art, history, music, science and many other fields can benfit from religious studies. The Green Collection is designed to show professors nationwide what is available for their students to work with.

The panel, peer-reviewed paper and performance sessions were limited to registered conference participants. Five special events were open to the general public to explore the reconciliation theme with nationally known speakers, film and theatre. Click here to read more about these five public events.

Attorney Fred D. Gray received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in recognition for his “remarkable achievements in civil rights legislation; the defense of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study participants; and for his life-long devotion to ‘destroying everything segregated I could find,’” said Fleer.

Gray has been at the forefront of changing the social fabric of America regarding desegregation, integration, constitutional law, racial discrimination in voting, housing, education, jury service, farm subsidies, medicine and ethics and generally in improving the national judicial system.

“This is the highest honor the university bestows on an individual. It expresses Lipscomb’s proactive vision for integration at all institutional levels as integral to the university’s mission,” said Fleer.

The Christian Scholars’ Conference was created in 1981 under the direction of Olbricht, distinguished professor emeritus at Pepperdine University, and is now hosted by Lipscomb University. The mission of the Christian Scholars’ Conference is to create and nurture an intellectual and Christian community that joins individuals and institutions to stimulate networks of scholarly dialogue and collaboration.

For a full schedule of the conference or more information about the keynote speakers, visit



Pre-Conference Events


tree of life

Wednesday, June 6
Screening of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”
Ward Hall, 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public

A free screening of the 2012 Academy Award-nominated film by Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life,” will be held at 7 p.m. in Ward Hall on the Lipscomb University campus.

The screening will be hosted by John Williams, a professor of American literature at Harding University, and Ted Parks, co-curator of the annual HumanDocs Film Series and professor at Lipscomb University.

For more information contact Ted Parks at 966.6616.

Wednesday, June 6-Saturday, June 9
Performance of the play “Exposure”
Shamblin Theatre
June 6, 8 and 9: 7 p.m.
June 7: 2 p.m.

$15 adults, $10 faculty/staff, $5 students

“Exposure,” winner of the 2011 Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars Conference playwriting competition, is about a high school counselor’s attempt to reconcile two female students who have tried to destroy each other through social media.  This riveting story reveals the pervasive quality of social media and the damaging effects of a lack of parental guidance.

Lipscomb’s theatre department will give five performances, open to the public as well as conference participants, on Wednesday, June 6, through Saturday, June 9, at 7 p.m. and on Thursday at 2 p.m., all in Shamblin Theatre. Tickets for the public cost $15 for adults, $10 for Lipscomb faculty/staff and $5 for students.

The play was written by Lipscomb theater student Whitney Vaughn and is directed by Lipscomb student Sawyer Wallace.

For more information on “Exposure” contact Mike Fernandez at 966.5186.


Keynote Speakers


Thursday, June 7
Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of “Cutting For Stone”

Collins Alumni Auditorium, 11 a.m.
Free and open to the public

Dr. Abraham Verghese will speak on Thursday, June 7, 11-12:15 p.m., in Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Born of Indian parents who were teachers in Ethiopia, Verghese grew up near Addis Ababa and began his medical training there. The deep relationships he formed and the suffering he witnessed during his early medical work caring for terminal AIDS patients in Boston and East Tennessee gave him transformative insight and became the basis for his first book: “My Own Country: A Doctor's Story.”

“My Own Country” was one of five chosen as Best Book of the Year by Time magazine and later made into a Mira Nair movie. His second book “The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss,” about his friend and tennis partner’s struggle with addiction, was a New York Times Notable Book.

“Cutting for Stone,” his latest book and first novel, has sold over a million copies and has been on the New York Times Paperback Fiction list for more than two years.

His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In his writing and his work, he continues to emphasize the importance of bedside medicine and physical examination in a time when the use of advanced technology frequently results in the patient having less attention than the data in the computer.

Verghese is the founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. As such, he brought the deep-seated empathy for patient suffering that had been honed by his previous experiences to his new role in the medical humanities. He gave the new center a guiding mission to emphasize the importance of truly caring for the patient.

Verghese is also professor for the theory and practice of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and senior associate chair of the Department of Internal Medicine.

For more information, contact Kellye McCool at 966.5458.


Thursday, June 7
Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian and international nonviolence advocate

Acuff Chapel, Lipscomb Academy*, 4 p.m.
Free and open to the public

Yale University’s Miroslav Volf will speak on Thursday, June 7, from 4-5:15 p.m., in Acuff Chapel on the Lipscomb Academy campus.

Volf, founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, is actively involved in many top-level initiatives concerning Christian-Muslim relations and is a member of the Global Agenda Council on Values of the World Economic Forum.

Volf , who also serves as the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School,  has written or edited 15 books and over 70 scholarly articles. His specialty at Yale is teaching how faith can connect to everyday life -- especially to questions about violence.
Volf, a former Croatian, was challenged in his commitment to nonviolence by the fighting in the early '90s between Serbia and his home country. Since emigrating to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, he has been involved in international ecumenical dialogues such as the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and interfaith dialogues through the executive board of C-1 World Dialogue.

His most significant books include “Exclusion and Embrace,” winner of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion and named one of Christianity Today’s 100 Most Important Religious Books of the 20th Century, and “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace,”  which was named the Archbishop of Canterbury Lenten book for 2006.

For more information, contact Kellye McCool at 966.5458.

*David Lipscomb Campus School, 3901 Granny White Pike, has been renamed Lipscomb Academy.


Saturday, June 9
Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of “Left to Tell”

Collins Alumni Auditorium, 10:45 a.m.
Free and open to the public

Rwandan author and reconciliation advocate Immaculée Ilibagiza will speak on Saturday, June 9, from 10:45 a.m. to12 p.m, in Willard Collins Alumni Auditorium.

Huddled in a cramped room for 91 days Ilibagiza survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide, but emerged to discover her family brutally murdered. Overcoming immeasurable odds she eventually found it possible and imperative to forgive her tormentors and her family’s murderers.

Anger and resentment were destroying her life and faith, but rather than succumb to rage Ilibagiza turned to prayer. Ilibagiza's faith empowered her to stare down a man armed with a machete threatening to kill and eventually address the ones who murdered her family, “I forgive you.”

In 1998, Ilibagiza immigrated to the United States where she continues to work with the U.N. Her first book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” quickly became a New York Times best-seller, translated into 17 languages. Her compelling story has also been made into a documentary, “The Diary of Immaculée.”

She has appeared in numerous media including 60 Minutes, CNN, EWTN, The Aljazeera Network, The New York Times, USA Today and Newsday, and she was featured in Michael Collopy’s “Architects of Peace” project, which has honored legendary peace makers like Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Ilibagiza has been recognized and honored with numerous humanitarian awards including The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace 2007 and the American Legacy's Women of Strength & Courage Award. “Left to Tell” has received a Christopher Award for “affirming the highest values of human spirit,” and was chosen as Outreach Magazine’s selection for “Best Outreach Testimony/Biography Resource of 2007.”

For more information, contact Kellye McCool at 966.5458.