McDonald Center to host 10th A.V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas

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Quad in spring

MACON — Mercer University’s Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Center for America’s Founding Principles will host April 17-18 its 10th A.V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas focusing on the political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the leading figures of the French Enlightenment. 

“The McDonald Center is committed to studying the various conceptions of liberty and justice developed in the 18th century so that we might better understand the range of choices available to the American founders, as well as the reasons for the choices they made. The political thought of Rousseau is fascinating for this reason, as it was both so influential and so singular,” said Dr. Will Jordan, co-director of the McDonald Center and professor of political science. 

This year’s conference includes lectures and panel discussions from 11 leading scholars of Rousseau from across the country. All events will be held in the Presidents Dining Room on the Macon campus. The conference is free and open to the public. 

“This is our first in-person Elliott Conference since 2019, and we are extremely excited about the lineup of scholars that we are once again able to bring to campus. Together, they have written more than a dozen of the most important books published about Rousseau in the last 30 years. It is also a very nice mix of accomplished senior scholars and up-and-coming younger scholars,” Dr. Jordan said. “We hope once again to publish an edited volume featuring the papers from this conference, and this group of scholars promises to make it one of the strongest entries in the series.” 

The conference will kick off at 4:15 p.m. April 17 with a student panel featuring sophomores Coy Eberhardt and Papa Guerrero and seniors Michael Hurst and Brandon Miley. The opening lecture will follow at 6 p.m. Dr. John T. Scott, distinguished professor of political science at the University of California, Davis, will speak on the topic “Rousseau’s Freedom: Phenomenological, not Metaphysical.” 

Panel discussions will commence on April 18. The first panel, scheduled for 9 a.m., is on “Rousseau on Human Being” and will feature Dr. Arthur Melzer, professor of political science at Michigan State University; Dr. Emma Planinc, assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame; and Dr. Samuel Stoner, assistant professor of philosophy at Assumption University. 

The second panel, scheduled for 10:45 a.m., is on “Rousseau on Government and Citizenship” and will feature Dr. Flora Champy, assistant professor of French at Princeton University; Dr. Daniel Cullen, professor of philosophy at Rhodes College; and Dr. Denise Schaeffer, professor of political science at College of the Holy Cross. 

The third panel, scheduled for 4 p.m., is on “Rousseau’s Reveries” and will feature Dr. Laurence Cooper, professor of political science at Carleton College; Dr. Eve Grace, associate professor of political science at Colorado College; and Dr. Christine Dunn Henderson, associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. 

The closing lecture will be held at 6 p.m. and feature Dr. Christopher Kelly, professor of political science at Boston College, on the topic “Misunderstanding Rousseau: The Enigmas of Rousseau: Judge of Jean-Jacques.” 

The McDonald Center for America’s Founding Principles has held an annual Conference on Great Books and Ideas since 2008. That conference was endowed with a $1 million gift from alumnus and trustee A.V. Elliott in November 2012. Elliott, a 1956 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who majored in history and Christianity, went on to found Elliott Machine Shop, a 100-employee company in Macon. His success, he said, was in part due to his ability to think critically at important moments, a skill he honed in his humanities courses at Mercer. 

About the Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Center for America’s Founding Principles 

The Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Center for America’s Founding Principles exists to supplement Mercer University’s excellent liberal arts program with a redoubled commitment to the foundational texts and ideas that have shaped Western civilization and the American political order. This focus on the core texts of the Western tradition helps to revitalize a cross-centuries dialogue about citizenship, human rights, and political, economic and religious freedom, thereby deepening the moral imagination and fostering civic and cultural literacy. 

The McDonald Center’s programming includes the annual A.V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas, faculty-student reading groups, a general education course on America’s Founding Principles, summer Great Books programs for high school teachers and students, and undergraduate research fellowships. All programming is designed to enhance Mercer’s long-standing role as a distinctive home of liberal learning, a place where serious students come to live the life of the mind and emerge more thoughtful and engaged citizens.