December 14, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

As Calvin's award-winning lecture series hits a quarter-century, it welcomes, among others, David Gergen, Sherry Turkle, N.T. Wright and Deborah Lew.

In preparation for January, staff in the student life division are reading Mobilizing Hope, a book by Adam Taylor that challenges Christians to a new species of activism in the post-Civil Rights era. Meanwhile education faculty are reading The Trouble with Black Boys, Pedro Noguera’s examination of the impact of racism on the schools and society. And the computer science department is excited about welcoming Sherry Turkle to Calvin.

“She was the person to get back when the internet was new,” said Kristi Potter, director of the January Series. “And she’s still the person to get when it comes to how technology is affecting us as people.”

Taylor, Noguero and Turkle are three speakers featured in the 2012 January Series, Calvin’s three-week annual lecture series that highlights the current conversation on social, religious, economic, cultural and historical issues. Now in its 25th year, the series will this year cover everything from the new Middle East to Christian activism to the uses and abuses of music. This year the series will welcome the following expert voices:

  • John Varineau, associate director at the Grand Rapids Symphony;
  • Edith Mirante, human rights advocate for the people of Burma;
  • Eric Metaxas, featured writer for everything from Veggie Tales to the New York Times, commentator on FoxNews and CNN, and the founder and host of the lecture series Socrates in the City: Conversations on the Examined Life. “Their list of speakers over the last 11 years is very similar to the one we’ve had over the list of 25 years,” said Potter.
  • Gabe Lyons, author of The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith.
  • Michael Gerson, former speechwriter and top aide to President George W. Bush and senior advisor at ONE, a bipartisan organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable diseases.
  • Jennifer Pharr Davis, record holder for hiking the Appalachia Trail in the least amount of time
  • Joel Salatin, fulltime alternative farmer
  • David Gergen, senior CNN political analyst and adviser to four presidents. “He’ll be able to give us a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on in January,” Potter said.
  • Reza Aslan, associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.
  • Deborah Lew, 2000 Calvin grad and Broadway actress.
  • Ralph Edmond, founder and co-owner of Farmatrix, a Haitian pharmaceutical company.
  • N. T. Wright, a prominent New Testament scholar and January Series perennial: “This is his fourth time,” said Potter of Wright, who will stick around to participate in Calvin’s January Series. “As far as people listening to his lectures on the website, he gets the most hits,” she added.

As the series hits its quarter-century anniversary, Potter shared her thoughts on keeping the discussion relevant in the 21st century: “It never gets old because it’s always timely. That’s why we don’t book it more than a year ahead. We want it to be fresh.” To construct a lively, contemporary speaker list, Potter relies on recommendations from faculty, staff and others from all over the Calvin community. “I couldn’t do it without their input,” she said.

While keeping the January Series timely, Potter is also widening its audience. “We have 34 remote sites, so we’re well beyond our auditorium walls … We’re excited that we get to share this series with our alumni and friends across the continent.”

She even likes the traditional dates of the series. “It’s a great way to start the new year with some good conversations … reading good books and having good discussions.” People often try to get her to name a speaker or two that she’s most looking forward to, Potter said, and she never can. “I look forward to all of them,” she said.

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