Spiritual Life Institute celebrates 30 years of scholarship and dialogue

June 7, 2012

LACEY, WASHINGTON — Some 65 years ago, a young Bedouin shepherd climbing about in the cliffs above the Dead Sea stumbled into a cave containing some curious old parchments.

They were the first of many. The honeycombed caves shadowing the ancient ruins of Qumran, a few miles from Jerusalem, have since yielded more than 900 such manuscripts. Some are written on parchment, some on papyrus; many are fragmented like ancient jigsaw puzzles. Collectively, the manuscripts have grown famous as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Ian Werrett, Ph.D., Saint Martin’s University associate professor of religious studies, is a specialist on the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Judaism. He also directs the University’s annual Spiritual Life Institute, a theology program that brings notable theologians and scholars to campus each summer to inspire awareness and deepen the spiritual journey of participants. No matter what the theme, the Institute, rooted in Saint Martin’s Benedictine approach to education, maintains a commitment to dialogue, engagement and reflection from year to year.

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the Spiritual life Institute, and Werrett plans to celebrate the three-decade milestone with a program dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 2012 Institute, “The Dead Sea Scrolls: History, Religion and Scripture,” will be an in-depth exploration of the fascinating documents penned so long ago by unknown hands. The program runs June 25-29 on Saint Martin’s Lacey campus.

“For the Institute’s anniversary, I wanted to focus on a topic that elicits passion, enthusiasm and ongoing inquiry from both the academic community and the broader community,” says Werrett. “With this year’s theme, we have an opportunity to attract talented scholars from around the world, and to share with our students new and exciting perspectives on the scrolls.”

Werrett will co-lead the 2012 Institute with two colleagues, Mladen Popovic, Ph.D., a theology and religious studies faculty member at University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Hanne von Weissenberg, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Popovic and Von Weissenberg are among the youngest researchers in a field where many of the first wave of scholars are now aging. Werrett says the three co-leaders are excited about teaching the Institute together, and he believes their enthusiasm will prove infectious, whether participants engage in the entire Institute or attend just one of the daily sessions.

The 2012 Spiritual Life Institute will close with a panel discussion on “History of the Bible: Canon and Authority,” featuring experts from the West Coast Qumran Discussion Group. The discussion, free and open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 29, at Harned Hall 110, on the University’s Lacey campus.

Members of the West Coast Qumran Discussion Group will remain an extra day to present their latest research papers at a closed-door session. It is Werrett’s hope that the papers can be edited into a book honoring the Spiritual Life Institute’s anniversary. Such a publication would be a fitting tribute to the 30-year-old Institute, established in 1982 by Saint Martin’s faculty member Father Kilian Malvey, O.S.B., explains Werrett.

“The key to its longevity is its diversity and the level of people that have been brought in to teach. They bring the subjects to life and inspire the folks attending with new ideas and concepts,” he says. “It all comes down to Father Kilian and his original vision for the Institute. I’ve been fortunate to carry on that tradition.”

Individuals have the option of registering for the entire week for credit or for daily classes.

For more information on this year’s Institute, including the daily schedule and registration information, go to www.stmartin.edu/spiritual_life.

Saint Martin’s University is an independent four-year, coeducational university located on a 380-acre wooded campus in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 23 majors and seven graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes 1,250 students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its main campus, and 650 more to its extension campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Centralia College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at www.stmartin.edu.

For additional information:

Ian Werrett, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
360-438-4290; iwerrett@stmartin.edu

Sarah Holdener
Director of Community Relations and Event Management
Office of Marketing and Communications
Saint Martin’s University
360-412-6140; sholdener@stmartin.edu