WASHINGTON, D.C.— On July 18, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) issued a press release after Fr. Columba’s nomination saying “Father Columba Stewart, OSB, Benedictine monk, scholar of early religions and executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, will deliver the 2019 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.”
The NEH has this lecture as the “highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. The NEH, a federal agency created in 1965, selects the lecturer through a formal review process that includes nominations from the general public.
Stewart will deliver the lecture, titled “Cultural Heritage Present and Future: A Benedictine Monk’s Long View,” on Monday, October 7, at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., at 7:30 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public and will stream online at neh.gov.
‘‘A ‘Monument Man’ of our time, Father Columba Stewart has dauntlessly rescued centuries’ worth of irreplaceable cultural heritage under threat from around the world,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede.
Stating that he was ‘deeply humbled” by his selection, Stewart replied, “It is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s intellectual life and one in which a keener sense of the wisdom and experience of the past, critically interpreted, has much to offer.’
Dubbed ‘the monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS,’ by Atlantic magazine, Stewart has spent 15 years working with international religious leaders, government authorities and archivists to photograph and digitize ancient to early-modern religious manuscripts, especially those at risk due to war, strife or economic uncertainty.
Stewart has traveled to the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and South Asia to partner with local communities to photograph historic handwritten books and documents in their original context. His work has taken him to some of the world’s most volatile regions.
Since becoming executive director of HMML in 2003, Stewart has striven to make these documents available to a wide public, aided in part by grants from the NEH. In 2015 HMML launched an online reading room to give visitors access to the library’s growing digitized collection of more than 250,000 handwritten books and 50 million handwritten pages, the world’s largest digital collection of ancient manuscripts.
Stewart professed vows as a monk at Saint John’s Abbey in 1982 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1990. Much of his work in preserving ancient religious texts is informed by Benedictine tradition. A scholar of early Christian monasticism, Stewart holds a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard University, a master’s in religious studies from Yale University, and a D.Phil. in theology from Oxford University. Stewart has published extensively on ancient Christianity, monasticism, and manuscript culture, including Working the Earth of the Heart: the Messalian Controversy in History, Texts and Language to 431, Cassian the Monk, Prayer and Community: the Benedictine Tradition, a wide range of essays and articles and is working on his current book, Between Earth and Heaven.
The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is the NEH agency’s signature annual public event. Past Jefferson Lecturers include Rita Charon, Martha C. Nussbaum, Ken Burns, Walter Isaacson, Wendell Berry, Drew Gilpin Faust, John Updike, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Toni Morrison, Barbara Tuchman, and Robert Penn Warren. The lectureship carries a $10,000 honorarium, set by statute.”
You can find the complete text of the Press Release on NEH’s website and can follow it on social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @NEHgov | #jefflec19