History in the present

Religious beliefs and history have the ability to change cultures, the economy and society, said Carlos Eire, keynote speaker at the McMurrin Humanities Lecture.

Eire’s address on Wednesday was part of the annual Sterling McMurrin Lecture on religion and culture and was the closing event for the College of Humanities’ three-day conference on hell and the afterlife.

The annual lecture is meant to engage students and the community to think about the role religion plays in society, said Bob Goldberg, director of the Tanner Humanities Center.

“This lecture is meant to bring the best scholarship to students, faculty and the community about the important role religion plays in history and culture,” Goldberg said.

During his lecture, Eire, a professor of history and religion at Yale University, said the changes brought about by the Protestant Reformation redefined not only the relationship between the living and the dead but society itself.

Changes in attitudes toward the existence of purgatory during the protestant reformation brought about the largest shift in religion and culture in history, Eire said.

“Where the rituals to the dead once haunted not only houses but calendars and coffers,” said Eire, “they would now only haunt the individual.”

Eire noted that when death became a personal and private affair, it helped to pave the way for today’s culture of individualism.

“The shift from death as communal to personal marked history’s turn to individualism and modernity,” he said.

Religion is crucial to society, and the events and religious history from the past can shape how our modern world thinks, Eire said, which is why further research into the religious past is crucial.

“Religion is about finding more in life than meets the eye and the impacts it has to transform culture is yet to be measured,” Eire said. “because to change (religious) beliefs is to change society.”

Dustin Shay, a freshman in business, said seeing how religion has affected history and culture today was eye opening because he was not raised in a religious environment

“I didn’t realize how much stock people put in religion and how much of an impact it has on, not just people, but an entire course of history,” Shay said.

Christopher Peddecord

Carlos Eire addresses the role of religion in society at the McMurrin humanities lecture in the Dumke Auditorium on Wednesday.