Skip to main content

Chaplain’s Speaker Series

Speaker: Fall 2018

Jim Wallis

America’s Original Sin and the Bridge to a New America
Tuesday, October 9 at 7 PM
(reception and book signing following)
Benton Chapel

Jim Wallis is president and founder of Sojourners in Washington, DC. a non-profit faith-based organization, network, and movement whose mission statement calls for “putting faith into action for social justice.” He is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine and web site which has a combined print and electronic media readership of more than a quarter million people with several million unique visitors to the website,, each year.  Wallis is a bestselling author, public theologian, national preacher, social activist, and international commentator on ethics and public life. His latest book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America was released in January 2016. Wallis has written eleven previous books, including The (Un)Common Good and the New York Times bestsellers God’s Politics and The Great Awakening. He is a frequent speaker in the United States and abroad, has written for major newspapers, does regular columns for Huffington Post and, and appears frequently on ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR; on shows from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to the O’Reilly Factor and Sunday shows like This Week and Meet the Press. Wallis also teaches at Georgetown University and has taught at Harvard University. He served on President Obama’s first White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and as the chair of the Global Agenda Council on Values of the World Economic Forum.

Starting in Fall of 2013, the University Chaplain has been given the charge of starting a new speaker series to bring to Vanderbilt’s campus dynamic and thought provoking speakers who will speak to religious life and the life of spirituality on college campuses. Bringing one great speaker per semester, the Office of Religious Life welcomes the opportunity to hear from clergy, professionals and speakers alike to delve into a topic that is needed to be talked about more on university campuses.

Speaker: Spring 2018

Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart

Making Sacred, Where Spiritual Resistance and Activism Meet
Thursday, February 8, at 7 PM
Benton Chapel

Naomi Washington-Leapheart, a daughter of Detroit, is the Faith Work Director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest national LGBTQ justice and equality group. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Theology and Religious Studies department at Villanova University.



 Speaker: Spring 2017

Reviving Your Heart: Putting Student Life in Perspective with special guest Nouman Ali Khan

Nouman Ali Khan will speak at Benton Chapel on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, at 7 pm


Speaker: Fall 2016

Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity with special guest Dr. Miroslav Volf

Dr. Miroslav Wolf will speak at Benton Chapel on Thursday, September 15, 2017, at 7 pm.


Past Speakers

Spring 2016

Interfaith Leadership: Engaging Faith and Philosophical Diversity in the 21st Century with Dr. Eboo Patel

Watch the video here

Eboo’s core belief is that religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division. He’s inspired to build this bridge by his faith as a Muslim, his Indian heritage, and his American citizenship. He has spoken about this vision at places like the TED conference, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, as well as college and university campuses across the country. He has written two books about interfaith cooperation, Acts of Faith and Sacred Ground. Some people ask if Eboo ever stops talking about interfaith. If it’s any indication, his five-year-old son can define interfaith cooperation.

Eboo will come back to Vanderbilt University for a special engagement with the Chaplain’s Speaker Series on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 7pm in Benton Chapel. The event is free of charge and open to the public. Seating is first come, first served.

Fall 2015

The Mystery and Art of Living with Krista Tippett

Krista Tippet came to Vanderbilt to speak for the Chaplain’s Speaker Series on Tuesday, September 29th at 7pm in Benton Chapel. View the video

Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestselling author. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence. On the air and in print, Ms. Tippett avoids easy answers, embracing complexity and inviting people of all faiths, no faith, and every background to join the conversation.”

Krista grew up in Oklahoma, the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. She studied history at Brown University and went to Bonn, West Germany in 1983 on a Fulbright Scholarship to study politics in Cold War Europe. In her 20s, she ended up in divided Berlin for most of the 1980s, first as The New York Times stringer and a freelance correspondent for Newsweek, The International Herald Tribune, the BBC, and Die Zeit. She later became a special assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to West Germany.

Krista left Berlin in 1988, the year before the Wall fell. She lived in Spain, England, and Scotland for a time, then pursued a M.Div. from Yale. When she graduated in 1994, she saw a black hole where intelligent coverage of religion should be. As she conducted a far-flung oral history project for the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey (pdf) in Collegeville, Minnesota, she began to imagine radio conversations about the spiritual and intellectual content of faith that could open imaginations and enrich public life.

In 2007, Krista published her first book, Speaking of Faith. It is a memoir of religion in our time, including her move from geopolitical engagement to theology and the cumulative wisdom of her interviews these past years. Her book, Einstein’s God, illustrates some of the important ways the program and her vision have continued to evolve.

Krista’s two children are at the center of her life. She also loves cooking for her children and their friends, radio plays, beautiful writing, great science fiction, cross country skiing, and hot yoga.

Spring 2015

Redeeming Darkness with Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor

The Chaplain’s Speaker Series welcomed Barbara Brown Taylor for a special engagement on Tuesday, March 31st at 7 pm in Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel.

Every life has its share of dark and light.  This is what we call “the human condition.”  Yet many of our inherited teachings glorify the light, leaving us so fearful of the dark and so well defended against it that we stand in grave danger of living only half a life.  In this address, Barbara Brown Taylor will explore the dark cloud of God’s presence in the Christian mystical tradition, proposing a spirituality for night time that allows darkness to teach us what we most need to know.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, professor, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, won a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her last book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, was featured in TIME magazine. She has served on the faculty of Piedmont College since 1998 as the Butman Professor of Religion & Philosophy and has been a guest lecturer at Emory, Duke, Princeton, and Yale. Taylor and her husband Ed live on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachians, sharing space with wild turkeys, red foxes, white-tailed deer and far too many chickens.

Fall 2014

The Island of Knowledge with Dr. Marcelo Gleiser

The Chaplain’s Speaker Series welcomed Dr. Marcelo Gleiser from Dartmouth College on September 25, 2014. Dr. Gleiser will joined us in Benton Chapel to discuss his latest work, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning.

Humans have worked to understand and explain the universe for millennia, but Gleiser says we’ll never know it all—and proceeds to explain why. We are driven “to make sense of the world” and our place in it, and advances in mathematics and technology, from geometry and lenses to calculus and computers, have expanded our reach, revealing details of the very small and the very large. But as that “island of knowledge” grows, Gleiser says, “so do the shores of our ignorance.” From Copernicus’s proof that the Earth orbited the Sun to Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation and motion, and quantum theory’s uncertainty principle, solutions that solved major problems also made many uncomfortable because they revealed deeper mysteries, showing “the true vastness of space and time.” Gleiser covers a broad swath of subjects—from cognition and curved space to particle physics, superstring theory, and multiverses—with a thoughtful, accessible style that balances philosophy with hard science. His island imagery will capture readers’ imagination as it examines the ideas that unnerve us even as they illuminate our world.

Gleiser will also be giving the colloquium address in the Department of Physics and Astronomy on Thursday, September 25, at 3:00PM in Stevenson 4327 entitled “Emergent Complexity in the Universe: An Information-Entropic Approach.” The abstract for his colloquium address is as follows:
From atoms to stars, physically-bound systems result from the interplay between attractive and repulsive interactions. In this lecture, I will present a new measure of complexity called “Configurational Entropy”. Inspired by Shannon’s information entropy, I will show how the configurational entropy encodes information about the shape and the stability of various physical objects, and how it can be used as an efficient measure of emerging complexity during nonequilibrium phenomena. Applications will include solitons, compact astrophysical objects, spontaneous symmetry breaking, and inflationary cosmology.

Spring 2014

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, & Christ Pantocrator, with Dr. Ralph C. Wood

On March 11, 2014 at 6:30 pm, Dr. Wood joined us in Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel.

Ralph C. Wood has served as University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor since 1998. He previously served for 26 years on the faculty of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he became the John Allen Easley Professor of Religion in 1990. He has also taught at Samford University in Birmingham, at Regent College in Vancouver, and at Providence College in Rhode Island and has spoken internationally including the Vatican and Notre Dame and most continents.

At Baylor, his main appointment is in the Religion Department, but he also teaches in the Great Texts program as well as the Department of English. He serves as an editor-at-large for the Christian Century and as an editorial board member for both the Flannery O’Connor Review and Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review.

Dr. Wood on his Academic Interests and Research: “I seek to interpret several of the major literary texts of the West, especially from the 19th and 20th centuries, from a confessionally Christian angle of vision. My aim is to show the relevance of these books to the witness of the Church as well as to the life of secular culture.”

Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes – Does Your House Have Lions?

On February 26th, 2014 at 7 pm in Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel, the Chaplain’s Speaker Series returned with Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, the 16th Dean of Vanderbilt’s Divinity School. Dean Townes gave a talk entitled, “Does Your House Have Lions? Citizenship and Faith in Today’s World.”

View the Video

Dean Townes holds the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Womanist Ethics and Society. She came to Vanderbilt from Yale University, where she was a distinguished scholar and administrator. Townes’ broad areas of expertise include Christian ethics, cultural theory and studies, postmodernism and social postmodernism. She has been a pioneering scholar in womanist theology, a field of studies in which the historic and current insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology. Townes has a strong interest in thinking critically about womanist perspectives on issues such as health care, economic justice, poetry and literary theory.

She is the author of the groundbreaking book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil(Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2006). Other books include Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Care and A Womanist Ethic of Care (Continuum, 1998), In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness (Abingdon Press, 1995) and Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope (Scholars Press, 1993). She co-edited Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) with Katie Geneva Cannon and Angela D. Simms. In addition, Religion, Health, and Healing in African American Life (Praeger, 2008) was co-edited by Townes with Stephanie Y. Mitchem.

The ordained American Baptist clegywoman earned a doctorate in philosophy from the Joint Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary/Northwestern University Program in Religious and Theological Studies in 1989. She also received a doctorate in ministry from the University of Chicago in 1982. Previously, Townes earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees at the University of Chicago. She continues her research on women and health in the African diaspora in Brazil and the United States.

Townes currently serves as president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion (2012–2016). She was the first African American woman elected to the presidential line of the American Academy of Religion, which she led in 2008. Townes was inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.

In 2010 Townes was honored as Distinguished Religious Scholar by the Black Religious Scholars Group. She also received a Doctor of Human Letters from the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary that year. She has also received honorary doctorates from Washington and Jefferson College and Franklin College.













Spring 2013

Pastor Rob Bell – What We Talk About When We Talk About God

March 14, 2013 welcomed Pastor Rob Bell to campus. Rob Bell, the Founding Pastor and Pastor Emeritus of Mars Hill Bible Church and author of “Love Wins”, “Velvet Elvis”, and “Sex God” came to Benton Chapel to speak for the first event of the new Chaplain’s Lecture Series. Mr. Belll spoke on his new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God.” Rob Bell graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Read the recap of the event here.