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Plagues & Metaphor

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Language about ‘plague’ rather than – say – ‘epidemic’ introduces elements of moral and theological interpretation into our view of a situation: plague is something ‘inflicted’, and is conceived against the background of certain kinds of biblical and classical narratives (the plagues of Egypt, Oedipus at Thebes, etc.). While this is by no means defunct (with some very unpleasant recent applications) the overall climate has changed. But it is still possible to reach for this language as a metaphorical structure – Camus, Garcia Marquez – which highlights aspects of the moral urgencies and ambiguities of a situation. The lecture will look at both the background usage and its modern transformations so as to draw out some thoughts on the nature of human limits and human responsibilities.


Dr Williams is Master of Magdalene College. He was educated at Dynevor Secondary Grammar School in Swansea, he came up to Christ’s College in 1968. He studied for his doctorate at Christ Church and Wadham College Oxford, working on the Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky. His career began as a lecturer at Mirfield (1975-1977). He returned to Cambridge as Tutor and Director of Studies at Westcott House. After ordination in Ely Cathedral, and serving as Honorary Assistant Priest at St George’s Chesterton, he was appointed to a University lectureship in Divinity. In 1984 he was elected a Fellow and Dean of Clare College. During his time at Clare he was arrested and fined for singing psalms as part of the CND protest at Lakenheath air-base. Then, still only 36, it was back to Oxford as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity for six years, before becoming Bishop of Monmouth, and, from 2000, Archbishop of Wales. He was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003. He was awarded the Oxford higher degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1989, and an honorary DCL degree in 2005; Cambridge followed in 2006 with an honorary DD. He holds honorary doctorates from considerably more than a dozen other universities, from Durham to K U Leuven, Toronto to Bonn. In 1990 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. Dr Williams is a noted poet and translator of poetry, and, apart from Welsh, speaks or reads nine other languages. He learnt Russian in-order to read the works of Dostoevsky in the original. This led to a book; he has also published studies of Arius, Teresa of Avila, and Sergii Bulgakov, together with writings on a wide range of theological, historical and political themes.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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