Professor Murphy Invites Students to Webster Retreat

Prophets, whether false or true, are a profound challenge to any society. It is said that a prophet is honored everywhere except in his or her own country. Why are prophets so dangerous? Why do they provoke such conflict? Prophets: you can’t live with them or without them. 

Professor James Bernard Murphy of the Government Department will lead an intensive, daylong intellectual retreat in the Hanover Inn for a small group of Dartmouth students to discuss the life, the trial, and the death of Socrates and Joan of Arc. Our retreat opens with dinner on Friday (May 25) and then reconvenes all day Saturday, concluding with dinner on Saturday (May 26). These famous trials and executions illustrate the collision of religious, political, and prophetic authority that is found in all societies. Were these trials and condemnations unjust? Why? After comparing the fates of these two famous prophets, we shall discuss the role of prophets in our own society. 

In this retreat experience, we shall all leave behind our daily routines and worries for an intensive immersion in discussion of great books and issues of permanent importance. As our conversations move between meals and seminars, we shall get to know each other as well. 

In preparation for our retreat, students will be required to read Plato’s short dialogues about the trial and death of Socrates as well as Bernard Shaw’s drama Saint Joan. Socrates is often called the founder of Western moral and political philosophy; Joan of Arc is a Catholic saint who is sometimes called the first Protestant and the first nationalist. Yet we shall discover strange parallels in their lives and trials. 

Students interested in participating in this retreat should write a paragraph in an email to me in response to each of these questions: 1) Why do you want to join this retreat? What do you hope to get out of it? 2) Are there any prophets in American society today? How do we know a true from a false prophet? Please send your application by email to: [email protected] 

The application deadline is April 30. Acceptances will be announced by May 7. Retreat members who complete all the requirements will receive a $500 honorarium for their participation.