The Irish Association for American Studies 2018 W. A. Emmerson Lecture was delivered by Prof. Tom Moylan, Glucksman Professor Emeritus in the School of English, Irish, and Communication, at the University of Limerick on 23 March 2018.
The Irish Association for American Studies, founded in 1970, is an all-island organisation with 140 members that promotes the culture as well as the study of the United States and the Americas in Ireland. It is also a constituent member of the European Association for American Studies. Through a range of bursary schemes, the organisation helps to fund the work of postgraduate and early career scholars in the diverse fields of American Studies, including history, film, literature, music, art, or politics. It hosts an annual conference and an annual postgraduate symposium, and it awards the Peggy O’Brien Book Prize and the WTM Riches Essay Prize.
The IAAS hosts the W. A. Emmerson Annual Lecture to promote the association and its activities. The lecture is named in honour of the historian Dr William Anthony Emmerson of the University of Ulster. Tony Emmerson was a founder member of the Association in 1970 and remained a committed and dedicated member for over forty years, holding a number of important roles, including Chair of IAAS but also Treasurer of the EAAS. When he sadly passed away in 2014, he was the Association’s Treasurer and Membership Secretary and key to the development of the important bursary schemes.
The 2018 event was opened by Dr David Coughlan, Chair of the IAAS and Head of English in the School of English, Irish, and Communication, and Prof. Moylan was introduced by Prof. Helen Kelly-Holmes, Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Prof. Moylan’s inspiring, thoughtful, and provocative lecture was entitled “‘A life worthy of human beings in the darkness’: “Reflections on Radical Nonviolence and Utopian Agency.”
Neither equating nonviolence with passivity nor simply opposing nonviolence and violence, Prof. Moylan spoke of nonviolence as a form of witness, intervention, or a way of life. He then went on to trace the American lineage of nonviolence, as seen, for example, in the Quakers, Thoreau’s civil disobedience, the civil rights movement, and the labour, suffrage, and peace movements, before looking in greater detail at the lives and work of Bayard Rustin, David Dellinger, and Daniel Berrigan, who speaks of that “life worthy of human beings in the darkness.”
Prof. Moylan concluded a wonderful lecture and evening by affirming that the nonviolent standpoint positions activists “at a utopian horizon from which they step back into the struggles of the present: not only to name social evil but to end it, not only to announce a better world but to build it.”