The Center for Italian Studies presents the fifth annual Ravarino Lecture, delivered by Peter S. Hawkins, Professor Emeritus of Religion and Literature in the Yale Divinity School at Yale University. This special edition of the Albert J. and Helen M. Ravarino Lecture is connected to the Dante in America lecture series taking place at Notre Dame throughout 2021.
Title: "'Nel mezzo del cammin': Finding a 'Spiritual' Dante in American Religious Culture"
Abstract: The opening lines of the Commedia have become a Rorschach for all kinds of depth experience. Dante's nightmare selva oscura, his experience of being lost in the midst of it, seem to "speak to our condition" in ways that earlier Dantean identities do not - "the Italian writer against the Pope," the forlorn lover of Beatrice, the pater patriae of Italy. In particular, in the United States, Dante has become the poet laureate of the midlife crisis, appealing to those who find themselves in a trackless wilderness, who want to find someone who knows the darkness well but has nonetheless found a way to see again the stars. For some, this means following the poet along the lines of his Christian faith, as in the case of Rod Dreher (How Dante Can Save Your Life, 2015). For many more, it means interpreting that faith either as practitioners of other religious traditions or as humanists of various kinds who might well describe themselves as "spiritual, not religious." Rather than being the precinct of the Christian straight and narrow, therefore, the Commedia turns out to offer a big tent for all "sorts and conditions" of spiritually eclectic readers. I want to explore that variety of approach -- through publications, the Internet, and personal interviews - in order to suggest Dante's multiform presence in American religious culture today. Although still pre-eminently the author of Inferno, he has become not only our poet laureate of malaise but also a guide out of it.