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Philosopher, author Matthew B. Crawford is 2024 Witherspoon Lecture Series speaker

April 8 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Philosopher and best-selling author Dr. Matthew B. Crawford has been selected speaker of the 2024 Witherspoon Lecture Series at Maryville College and will give the address “The Challenge of Higher Education in an Age of Distraction” on April 8. The event, free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Lambert Recital Hall of the Clayton Center for the Arts. A Q&A session, moderated by Maryville College Philosophy Professor and Ralph W. Beeson Professor of Religion Dr. Bill Meyer, will follow Crawford’s lecture as part of the annual Cummings Conversations.

Crawford is author of the New York Times bestseller and critically acclaimed “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” publication of which led the Sunday Times to declare Crawford “one of the most influential thinkers of our time.” A motor mechanic since the age of 15, Crawford combined a passion for cars, motorcycles and the freedom found in the driver’s seat when writing his 2020 book Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road.

However, it is his 2015 book, “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction,” that Crawford will draw mostly from for his talk at the College. In writing it, he investigated the intense focus of pipe organ builders, hockey players and short-order cooks and argues that activities like theirs “reveal something about our constitution that tends to get lost in the official self-understanding of the West.” He suggests that distractibility could be considered the mental equivalent of obesity.

“We find ourselves in a new type of economy, based on the ever more aggressive appropriation of our attention. This makes cultivating the habits of deep, slow thinking a difficult matter,” Crawford said. “But our distractibility is not simply due to technology. The question of what to pay attention to is ultimately a question of what to value. Without some robust and demanding picture of the good life that elicits effort and devotion, our attention will be claimed by the highest bidder and our lives will be dissipated.”

Crawford majored in physics as an undergraduate, then turned to political philosophy, earning a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Currently a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, he has written for The New York Times and First Things, a journal of religion and public life. Crawford also is a contributing editor of The New Atlantis, the stated aim of which is “a culture in which science and technology work for, not on, human beings.” In 2021, he was invited to provide testimony at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, where the concerning issue was connected home technology.

Witherspoon Lecture established in 2022
Crawford’s April 8th  address is the second event of the Newell and Mary Lee Witherspoon Lecture Series, which the alumni couple established at the College through an endowment in
2022. The Witherspoons, longtime residents of Huntsville, Alabama, were motivated to endow a series that would support the mission and build the reputation of the College by bringing
interesting and thought-provoking speakers and artists to campus. The purpose of the lecture series is to strengthen relationships between members of the campus community and also between the campus and the wider region by creating opportunities to learn about and discuss topics that are important, timely and of broad interest. Events and guest speakers will strive to express the value of differing views, while seeking common ground and acknowledging the dignity in all.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Crawford to Maryville College and believe his will be a thought-provoking lecture on a topic that is relevant to not only MC and higher education, but
the wider world,” said Karen Beaty Eldridge ’94, executive director of marketing and communications, and chair of the Witherspoon Lecture Series committee. “Living distracted lives hinders our ability to be our best selves and at our best for others. Clearing the trivial distractions and focusing can help us rediscover what is truly important and ‘do good on the largest possible scale,’ as our founder, the Rev. Isaac Anderson, implored.”


April 8
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Maryville College