Writer, Philosopher, Ambassador Michael Novak to Headline Second Annual A.V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas


MACON – Mercer University's Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Center for America's Founding Principles will host its second annual A.V. Elliott Conference on Great Books and Ideas, April 2-3, with a closing lecture by noted author, journalist, philosopher and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Michael Novak. The theme of this year's conference is “On Religious Liberty.”

“We're thrilled to be able to bring some of the nation's best scholars to Mercer,” said Dr. Will Jordan, co-director of the Center and associate professor of political science.

“This conference is a great opportunity to expose our students and others to first-rate scholarship about the most important and vital human questions. America's protection of religious liberty is perhaps our greatest accomplishment, and we see every day in the news that this liberty is not something that should be taken for granted. The conference participants will explore the intellectual foundations and current trajectory of religious liberty.”

Novak is author or editor of more than 45 books, from 1961 through the present, addressing issues as diverse as capitalism versus socialism, human rights, faith, labor union history, sports, ethnicity, peace, liberty and justice, the American presidency, families, welfare reform, television, and the role of the churches in a pluralistic world. His 1982 book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, is his most widely regarded work.

As a human rights ambassador, he has earned the highest honor that can be bestowed on a foreign citizen from the presidents of three different nations – the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia – as well as praise from the likes of Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher.

Novak has been granted 26 honorary degrees, the Friend of Freedom Award from the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedom Foundation, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, among numerous other honors. He has taught at Harvard, Stanford, SUNY Old Westbury, Syracuse and Notre Dame. Since 2010, he spends the academic year at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida, where he writes, teaches and serves as a founding member of the board of trustees.

“In Michael Novak, we have perhaps America's foremost Catholic thinker of the last quarter-century,” said Dr. Charlotte Thomas, co-director of the Center and professor of philosophy.

His lecture on Thursday, April 3, at 6 p.m., in the Medical School Auditorium on the Macon campus, is titled “What the Nature of God Must Be, To Demand Liberty of Conscience.”

The conference will open Wednesday, April 2, at 6 p.m., in the Medical School Auditorium with a lecture by John Witte Jr. of Emory University, titled “Separation of Church and State in America: Facts, Fictions, and Challenges.”

Witte is director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Alonzo L. McDonald Family Foundation Distinguished Professor at Emory. A specialist in legal history, marriage law and religious liberty, he has published 200 articles, 15 journal symposia and 27 books. With major funding from the Pew, Ford, Lilly, Luce and McDonald foundations, he has directed 12 major international research projects on democracy, human rights and religious liberty, and on marriage, family and children. He has been selected 12 times by Emory Law students as Most Outstanding Professor, and has won scores of other awards and prizes for his teaching and research.

“John Witte Jr. is a dynamic speaker and one of the nation's leading legal minds on church-state issues,” said Dr. Thomas.

Then on Thursday morning, a Mercer student panel will be held from 9-10:15 a.m. That will be followed by a guest faculty panel, from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m., consisting of Maura Jane Farrelly, associate professor of American studies at Brandeis University; Steven Grosby, professor of religion at Clemson University; and Jeremiah Russell, assistant professor of political science and public administration at Jacksonville State University. A second guest faculty panel, consisting of Daniel Cullen, associate professor of political science at Rhodes College; David Ramsey, assistant professor of government at the University of West Florida; and Scott Yenor, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Boise State University, will follow from 1:15-2:45 p.m. All three of these events will take place in Conference Room I of the Connell Student Center on the Macon campus.

The recently endowed McDonald Center for America's Founding Principles had 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 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.

All events are free and open to the public. More information on the conference can be found here.

About the Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Center

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 which 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 an annual lecture series, high school teacher workshops, post-doctoral teaching fellowships and undergraduate research fellowships. All programming is designed to enhance Mercer's longstanding 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.

Kyle Sears
Kyle is the director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he coordinates hometown and university news releases and serves as editor of the News@Mercer e-newsletter and Reach magazine.​