News & Events

10 September 2019

Rachel Fulton Brown – Distinguished Speaker

On Wednesday 14 August Rachel Fulton Brown from the University of Chicago delivered the sixth Ramsay Lecture for 2019 at the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel. The title of her lecture was “Great Books of the Middle Ages; and how to read them”

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2 September 2019

Anastasia Lin – Distinguished Speaker

“Has the Cultural Revolution arrived in the West?”

On Tuesday 27 August Canadian-Chinese actress and human rights advocate Anastasia Lin and Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines discussed the West, education and our basic freedoms for the seventh Ramsay Lecture event for 2019.

 

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26 August 2019

Has the Cultural Revolution arrived in the West?

Canadian-Chinese human rights advocate Anastasia Lin in conversation with Prof Simon Haines

Sydney, Monday 26 August 2019:  Is it worth living in a world where we are afraid to say what we think, even to our friends? So asked Canadian-Chinese actress and human rights advocate Anastasia Lin in April in The Wall Street Journal, lamenting an emerging ‘call-out culture’ in western democracies that is putting freedom of speech at risk.

Ms Lin understands risks to freedom and freedom of speech more than most.  Having emigrated to Canada from China when she was 13, she eventually began speaking out against human rights abuses, including during her reign as Miss World Canada. As a result, her father who still resides in China, was allegedly threatened by security agents, and Anastasia was barred entry to China to compete in the 2015 Miss World competition.

Now Anastasia advocates for countries the world over to do more than simply pay lip service to protecting basic freedoms. She is a strong supporter of western civilisation study at schools and universities to ensure people in the West understand their rights and freedoms, and when they might be at risk.

“The emerging call-out culture in the US, Canada and elsewhere in the West bears more than a few similarities to China’s Cultural Revolution, in which writers, artists, doctors, scholars and other professionals were publicly denounced and forced by mobs to engage in ritual self-criticism,” she wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “The goal is not to persuade or debate; it is to humiliate the target and intimidate everyone else. The ultimate objective is to destroy independent thought.”

Anastasia Lin is the Centre for Independent Studies scholar-in-residence in 2019. She is the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s ambassador for China policy and a senior fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines will hold a special discussion with Anastasia on the West, education and our basic freedoms tomorrow night as the seventh Ramsay Lecture event for 2019.

Professor Haines has had a distinguished academic career including close to a decade in Hong Kong where he was Chair Professor of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as Director of its Research Centre for Human Values.

He recently opined in The Australian Financial Review that our notions of tragedy and truth, state and citizen, beauty and good, nature and art all have long and distinctive pedigrees, and are deeply constitutive of modern attitudes. Perhaps this is most true in the case of our liberal-democratic freedoms: of speech, assembly, religion, the press, he wrote.

“Daily the local and international news reminds us that these freedoms are under perpetual challenge. In Australia, voices across the political spectrum, from Alan Jones to Richard Flanagan, have spoken out in defence of a free press.

In Hong Kong, millions of people, included among them many students, have assembled in the streets in defence of the rule of law. Good for them. Use it or lose it: freedom is the birthright each generation inherits, but also holds in trust for those to come. Our sense of responsibility for the trust is strengthened if we also know it as an inheritance. But it’s a complex inheritance, and we are inconsistent in our attitudes to it.”    

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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19 August 2019

The Ramsay Podcast with Stephen McInerney and Rachel Fulton Brown

What is the Middle Ages and what can we learn from that period about truth, beauty and goodness, to enhance the joy of modern learning? Ramsay Centre Executive Officer Dr Stephen McInerney sits down with acclaimed medievalist Associate Professor Rachel Fulton Brown from the University of Chicago ahead of her Sydney lecture on “Great Books of the Middle Ages and How to Read Them”. 

 

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15 August 2019

Upcoming Lecture – Ramsay Lecture Series 2019

Has the Cultural Revolution arrived in the West?
Anastasia Lin in conversation with Prof Simon Haines
Is it worth living in a world where we are afraid to say what we think, even to our friends?
This was the question posed by Chinese Canadian freedom fighter Anastasia Lin in April in the Wall Street Journal.
She now advocates for countries the world over to do more than simply pay lip service to protecting basic freedoms.
“The emerging call-out culture in the US, Canada and elsewhere in the West bears more than a few similarities to China’s Cultural Revolution, in which writers, artists, doctors, scholars and other professionals were publicly denounced and forced by mobs to engage in ritual self-criticism. The goal is not to persuade or debate; it is to humiliate the target and intimidate everyone else. The ultimate objective is to destroy independent thought.”
In Australia voices across the political spectrum from Alan Jones to Richard Flanagan have recently spoken out in defence of a free press; and in Hong Kong more than a million people have protested in defence of rule of law. So, can we maintain the right to express our own views while limiting the rights of others to do the same? When does freedom of expression become an incitement to riot, an oppression of the vulnerable or a danger to national security?

Anastasia Lin is the Scholar in Residence at The Centre for Independent Studies and is an award-winning actress, beauty pageant titleholder, and human rights advocate. In 2015, Lin won the Miss World Canada title, and was to represent Canada at the Miss World pageant in China. However, she was refused a visa and declared a persona non grata by Chinese authorities for her outspoken views on the country’s human rights violations. The news of her rejection—and subsequent attempt to enter China—caused global media attention for weeks, leading to a front page article in The New York Times and op-eds in major newspapers. Since then, she has been invited to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Oxford Union, United Nations Human Rights Council, the Geneva Human Rights Summit, Oslo Freedom Forum and has testified in the US Congress, the UK Parliament, and the Taiwanese Legislative Assembly.

Lin has appeared in over 20 films and television productions. She often works at the confluence of activism and acting, playing roles that carry messages of freedom, human rights, and ethics. Her films have received the Gabriel Award for Best Feature Film, the Mexico International Film Festival’s Golden Palm Award, and the California’s Indie Fest Award of Merit. Lin also won the Best Leading Actress in a TV Movie at the Leo Awards in 2016. As a model, she’s made appearances on runways around the world, including the New York Fashion Week show at the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria. 

Lin has been listed as one of the “Top 25 under 25” by MTV, a “Top 60 under 30” by Flare, and called “The Badass Beauty Queen” by Marie Claire. She was one of eleven stakeholders selected to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird upon the establishment of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. Her articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The Daily Telegraph and other major newspapers.

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15 August 2019

Ramsay Lecture Series 2019

A series of distinguished visiting speakers will deliver public lectures and small seminars to encourage wider interest in and knowledge of Western Civilisation.

Our international and local speakers will be from various walks of life and will include politicians, academics and business leaders.

RAMSAY LECTURE SERIES – 2019*

19 March Dr Fiona Wood AM Plastic and reconstructive surgeon
9 April Greg Sheridan AO Foreign affairs commentator and author
21 May Rod Dreher American writer and editor 
18 June Helen Pluckrose Editor in Chief, AREO
23 July Jonathan Haidt Social psychologist and Prof of Ethical Leadership NYU
14 August Dr Rachel Fulton-Brown University of Chicago
27 August Anastasia Lin Scholar in Residence at The Centre for Independent Studies, Human rights advocate and award winning actress
October TBA
November TBA Prof Bettany Hughes will now present in 2020

If you would like to receive invitations to our lectures, please send an email to info@ramsaycentre.org and include your name, company, telephone number and email address.

*Dates and presenters are subject to change.

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15 August 2019

Reclaiming the Middle Ages from contemporary politics

By LUKE SLATTERY
12:00AM AUGUST 10, 2019

“Three cheers for white men!” American medieval scholar Rachel Fulton Brown proclaimed in the 2015 blog post that effectively remade her.

Until that moment this spry, white-haired University of Chicago academic was known chiefly as the author of a 750-page scholarly doorstopper titled From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200.

With her incendiary blog, designed to counter with a few salient historical facts the ritualistic enmity towards “dead white Anglo-Saxon males” among tenured radicals, Brown catapulted herself into the culture wars. Her post urged readers to “Hug a white man today!” She has never looked back.

Ahead of a public lecture in Sydney next week on great books of the Middle Ages, Brown stresses a point that she has hammered on her Fencing Bear at Prayer blog: “It was white men who extended suffrage to women. White women invented feminism and white men supported them.” Much of what she has to say on the web is playful and provocative — it’s in her gift to be both simultaneously — but the title of her blog can be taken quite literally. She is a devoted prayerful Christian, baptised and reared a Presbyterian and received into the Catholic Church in 2017. Her sport of choice is fencing. “I’ve been a sport fencer for 16 years,” she tells Inquirer. “Putting on a fencing mask changes you.”

When viewed through its art, architecture and literature, the Middle Ages can seem like a dreamscape of noble ladies, chivalrous knights and troubadour poets, saturated in the ideals of courtly love. Of late, however, it has been dragged roughly by its wimple and gorget into the 21st century. The Middle Ages have been renamed the Middle Rages, and Brown, 54, labelled a “violent fascist” and “white supremacist” for her refusal to follow colleagues in denouncing the subject for complicity in the ideals of white ­nationalists. She describes herself, with a touch of sadness, as her discipline’s “poster monster”.

In August 2017 a fellow medievalist, Dorothy Kim, who was disturbed by the adoption of medieval regalia by some protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, called out her colleagues as “ideological arms dealers” trading racist weaponry in the classroom.

“Today, medievalists have to understand that the public and our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white ­supremacist sympathisers because we are medievalists,” she wrote in a blog post. “The medieval Western European Christian past is being weaponized by white ­supremacist/white nationalist/KKK/Nazi extremist groups who also frequently happen to be college students.”

Brown hit back. Not only did she insist that she is not, and never has been, a white supremacist, she went to some lengths to trace the multiracial threads in the New and Old Testaments as well as the culture of medieval Christianity, stressing in particular the genuine Catholicism (from the Greek katholikos, meaning universal) of the early church.

Her riposte to Kim, similar in thrust to her argument with Anglo-masculophobes on campus, is that history in neither its broad sweep nor in its fine textual detail confirms the image of a “white supremacist” medieval world. “How should you signal that you are not a white supremacist if you teach the ‘medieval western European Christian past?’ ” she asked, pointedly echoing Kim, who teaches medieval literature at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, and is the author, most recently, of Digital Whiteness & Medieval Studies. “Learn some f..king medieval western Euro­pean Christian history, including the history of our field.”

Speaking from home in Chicago, Brown, who is married, plays the fiddle, confesses to a Myers Briggs Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging personality type, and has a Cardigan Welsh corgi barking in the background, is rather more muted than her often peppery blog persona. She quotes Paul’s letter to the Galatians as confirmation of her creed’s blindness to colour, class, gender or race: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor ­female.” Yet it can’t be easy to ­retain her equanimity in the often-vituperative world of politicised aca­deme. She mentions, a little wearily, that she has just been tagged in a thread: ­“Rachel Fulton Brown has repeatedly allied herself with white supremacists and has harassed scholars of colour in our field (presumably a reference to her criticism of Kim). I don’t want anything to do with her.”

Stirring the coals of outrage, as Brown explains, is her friendship with Briton Milo ­Yiannopoulos. The self-described “cultural libertarian” — code for publicity-seeking ultraconservative provoca­teur — and former editor of Breitbart News was denied a visa to enter Australia this year after anti-Muslim comments he posted following the Christchurch massacre. The openly gay — Brown ­describes him as the world’s “most famous faggot” — commentator’s new book, Middle Rages: How the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America, goes into bat for Brown in her row with Kim.

Until her “three cheers for white men!” post of 2015, Brown had used her blog, she explains, largely for rumination and reflection. But her decision to tackle “more darkly cultural questions” led her to examine the intersection of past and present, or politics in thought and action. She took an interest in Yiannopoulos, ­started to watch his videos and eventually emailed him. “That contact blossomed into a friendship,” she ­explains. “We share concerns about Christianity. He’s playing on a much bigger stage and that’s brought my work to a bigger audience.”

In response to the concerns first raised by Kim, and repeated by other academics vexed by the apparent allure of medieval ­imagery for the far right, Brown points out that only a few far-right protesters are seen in “vaguely” medieval costume, and their preferred symbolism appears to be pagan Germanic and pre-Christian. The implication is that if proto-fascists want to dress up in Wagnerian garb, scholars of the medieval world have little purchase on the problem.

“I was simply suggesting to my colleagues that they might be stoking hysteria and if they want to dispel this sort of thing they should do their job and tell the story,” she says, reprising the history of her ­notorious stoush, minus the sting. “Good history dispels the popular myths about the medieval world, and the fantasy version of the ­Crusades.”

Her personal and professional focus is not, in any event, with the masculine world of the Knights Templar or the bloody wars of the Plantagenets. Her medieval world is a thing of beauty: a civilisation singularly devoted to the Virgin Mary. The culture, in her view, was completely infused with Marianism. And to the extent that medieval Christianity helped to define Western civilisation, we still live at some level, she believes, in a matriarchal culture.

“To understand Mary as medieval Christians imagined her, one has to understand everything,” she says. “She is there in the art and the architecture and the music. She is there in the literature and the liturgy and the liberal arts. She is there in the most elevated expressions of human imagination and in the humblest prayers for help. She is there in the politics and in the ideals of marriage, in battle cries and in pleas for mercy for the ­oppressed. Medieval Christianity is inconceivable without her.”

The Virgin Mary was not only the mother of God, Brown argues, she was an emblem of the city and of civilisation. The medieval world and its devotion to the Virgin Mary is far from our own, and its fragile hold on the contemporary imagination was underscored symbolically this year by the near-destruction of Notre Dame (“Our Lady”) of Paris. The idea of recovering the difficult texts of this ­period and reverse engineering them into a Great Books curriculum doesn’t drive Brown. Nor does nostalgia. “I don’t want to bring back the medieval world,” she says. “That will not work. It’s like taxidermy. I want instead for you to have the living sense of what it meant in that period to create.”

Brown has taught at Chicago for 25 years and worries about the tendency to read literature as an exercise in speaking knowledge to power. She detects a mood in ­undergraduates — a kind of hollowness — that she interprets as “a fear of being affected by the texts that we read. It is a fear of what might happen if we let the great books that we read work on us.”

If there is one thing she would like to recover from the Middle Ages it’s not so much the texts that were inherited and read, transcribed or written but an attitude to reading. “Scripture is inexhaustible,” she says. “It’s a consistent story. Medieval students of scripture knew that the stories were true but they didn’t know all its truths, its full dimensions. Scripture was a constantly unfolding revelation of mysteries. So, from the medieval point of view these texts are very much alive; we need to unlock all these layers. And to read — to read for wisdom.”

Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article.

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15 August 2019

Great Books of the Middle Ages and How to Read Them

Sydney, Thursday 15 August: Do we really understand the ‘Dark Ages’? What was it like to exist in an age when people were supposedly punished for the exercise of reason in pursuit of the truth?

Renowned medievalist, University of Chicago Associate Professor of History Rachel Fulton Brown, has dedicated her academic career to reading texts from the Middle Ages that she says are often dismissed ‘either because the ideas in them seem boring (they aren’t!) or because everyone assumes that we already know what they say (we don’t).’

Last night she delivered the sixth Ramsay lecture for 2019 on ‘Great Books of the Middle Ages, and How to Read Them.”  

She argued that ‘Great Books’ courses should include more works from the thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the sixteenth century, as currently such courses effectively exclude the Middle Ages from the development of Western Civilisation.  

“Without the Christian Middle Ages, we would not be here arguing for the importance of truth, beauty and goodness at all. If we want to challenge the postmodern critique of modernity, we need to understand the straw-man on which modernity constructed itself: the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ in which people were supposedly punished for the exercise of reason in pursuit of truth,” she said ahead of the talk. 

Since 1994 Rachel Fulton Brown has taught at the University of Chicago, one of America’s most distinguished colleges, where her teaching has been recognized with the Provost’s Teaching Award and the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She was awarded tenure in 2002.  

She is the author of From Judgement to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 and Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought, as well as co-editor of History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, all published by Columbia University Press.  

Her current research includes work on training the soul in virtue; the psychological bases for the doctrine of the Seven Deadly sins; the growth of cities and their relationship to prayer; and how saying the Psalms in honour of the Virgin Mary gives birth to understanding and joy.  

The Ramsay Lecture series hosts speakers from all walks of life who have important and interesting perspectives relating to the world and our western heritage. Printed versions of the lectures and video recordings are available on our website: www.ramsaycentre.org

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098 

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History is philosophy teaching by examples"
- Thucydides