By Cullen Trobec
On Monday, Oct. 2, the Koch Chair Lecture was given by Dr. Chris Pramuk, University Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination at Regis University.
Dr. Pramuk’s lecture titled “The Arts, Empathy and Racial Justice: Reimagining Together What is Possible,” focused on the intersection of music and faith in relation to race. In it, Dr. Pramuk emphasized the role that the arts can play in bridging racial gaps and furthering social justice.
Dr. Pramuk’s lecture was preceded by a performance of two songs by the St. Ben’s Women’s Choir followed by a group sing-along to emphasize music’s ability to draw strangers together, particularly during times of grief and despair.
This was especially fitting given that Dr. Pramuk spoke less than twenty-four hours after the horrible events in Las Vegas.
“If you remember nothing else I say tonight, remember that hope is our capacity to imagine again in the wake of loss,” Pramuk said.
Dr. Pramuk began his lecture with a meditation on music. He started by describing the comforting power of music and its ability to elicit emotions as well as provide people with a connection to something greater than themselves. Pramuk described how certain artists such as Stevie Wonder have influenced his own perception not only of the music, but of the world. Specifically, cultural elements such as faith and race.
“For listeners like myself, the music of Stevie Wonder facilitates a powerful and potentially painful realization,” Pramuk said. “Namely, my own confinement in the prison built by racism.”
Pramuk believes that music and the arts are an essential tool to exposing ourselves to aspects of culture that may be new to some people such as black
Catholicism. He discussed how exposing oneself to the unique way the black community explores faith through music can serve as a way to examine one’s personal faith, and to understand that Catholicism is multi-national. This acts as a starting point toward creating improved relationships between races.
“There may be no community better positioned than the American Catholic church to build healing relationships across the color line,” Pramuk said.
Despite the immense role music can play in building racial unity, Pramuk stressed the difference between simply exposing ourselves to different artistic cultural experiences and actually connecting with the people they represent. He implored people to practice unyielding empathy towards members of all races and customs.
“It is not enough for white folks like me to love black culture, and not to love and
defend actual black and brown people,” Pramuk said.
Dr. Pramuk’s words were well received by dozens of students, specifically his comments on music and art.
“I think a lot of the time the arts are absent from discussion on faith,” CSB sophomore Martha Koenig said. “It was really interesting to think about how we can experience faith and racial justice through that lens.”
In an interview following his lecture, Pramuk gave several insights as to how students at CSB/SJU can work to bridge racial gaps in their own lives. He says resisting patterns of self-segregation and simply extending friendships to those of different backgrounds are some of the most effective things one can do.
“Be sure that you’re as welcoming and inclusive as you can be,” Pramuk said, “And constantly think about the link between faith and justice.”