The Rev. Dr. Robert MacSwain, assistant professor of theology and Christian ethics at The School of Theology of the University of the South, has been a leading figure in recent discussions on the work of C. S. Lewis. In 2010, MacSwain co-edited the highly acclaimed Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis. This has led to numerous invitations to give talks and lectures in relation to the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death on Nov. 22, 1963.
According to MacSwain, Lewis’s huge popularity today as a mass-media cultural icon presents considerable challenges to scholars seeking to understand his work. “Few people are neutral about Lewis: he tends to generate either extreme devotion and intense dislike. Most people latch onto one aspect of Lewis and make their assessment on the basis of that, but he is a complex figure and often more interesting than either his friends or foes realize.
“He’s also undoubtedly the most influential Anglican author of the 20th century," MacSwain continued, "and perhaps even the most influential Christian writer of the 20th century, so whether we like him or not, his legacy needs to be taken seriously.”
On Nov. 20, MacSwain will deliver a lecture at Duke University titled “Rational and Imaginative Persuasion: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Death of C. S. Lewis.” He will also preach during a service commemorating Lewis held in the Duke Divinity School Chapel the following morning.
On Nov. 22, the actual anniversary, MacSwain will travel to Baltimore to contribute to a panel discussing Lewis’s continuing significance with fellow panelists Michael Maudlin, senior vice-president and executive editor of HarperOne, and N. T. Wright, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews. This event is part of the annual American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference, and will also mark the launch of a new collection of Lewis’s literary essays, Image and Imagination, published by Cambridge University Press.
Finally, on Nov. 26, MacSwain will chair an interdisciplinary session in Baltimore, sponsored by the Arts, Literature, and Religion section of the American Academy of Religion, focused on Lewis’s anniversary. The panelists will be Wesley Kort of Duke University, Robert Song of Durham University, William Abraham of Southern Methodist University, and Douglas Hedley of Cambridge University, with Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard Divinity School responding.
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the most popular authors of the 20th century and his many works in multiple genres still remain best-sellers. Most famous for his classic series of children’s fantasy, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis also wrote science fiction, theology, philosophy, autobiography, literary scholarship, and poetry. A close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis taught English at Oxford University from 1925 to 1954, and ended his academic career as the first professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge.