Professor Bob Johnson stands poised, ready to start. He looks around the full auditorium, puts his hands out in front of himself in his typical way and begins.
“This is not about anyone else’s death, this is not about the grieving process, this is not about where you go after you die. This is about you – your death – and the simple fact of ceasing to exist as you know it when you die,” said Johnson on Sept. 11, at the first lecture of the death lecture series.
With a packed auditorium and attentive students and professors alike, Johnson presented the first of five lectures as part of Castleton’s fall lecture series.
“I thought that the opportunity to think about my own mortality seemed interesting,” said junior Emilio Cibula, after attending the lecture. “I thought he brought up provocative questions. His scenario about surgery – the idea that hours have passed, but that you aren’t aware of the time passing, although everyone else is – you know, are you still you? I’m excited for the other lectures.”
Drawing on philosophers and writers alike, Johnson’s focus was not, as he said, on grieving or the afterlife, but the notion that life ends for each individual on a subjective level.
“Your death has a structure and role in the natural order of things … The interesting part, I think, is that we get anxious even though the world went on before we exist and certainly will continue on without us – even though it’s difficult for us to imagine,” said Johnson.
Jesse Perkins, a junior, said that although many of the students present were required to be there as part of Professor Bill Ramage’s seminar class, she felt there was real value in the lecture.
“I thought it was an eye-opener … You don’t get the experience to talk to someone about death. You don’t get to talk about it every day,” she said.
Another student, a junior, Josh Karosis, reiterated the same feelings. “I thought it was great how he [Johnson] tried to avoid the idea of an ‘afterlife’ to better fit everyone and all beliefs into the discussion.”
Professor Burnham Holmes was also intrigued by the talk.
“One of the things I was struck with was … his expression of life as the ultimate deadline,” Holmes said. “Would that make us live more intensely?”
“I’m actually surprised at the number of people who came,” Johnson said laughingly about the nearly full house.
The lectures on death will continue Sept. 25, with professor Mark Fox discussing the biological perspective of the topic. The religious thinkers aspect will be presented Oct. 23; a writer’s consideration of death will be presented by professor Joyce Thomas on Nov. 13; and Ramage will complete the series on Dec. 4. All lectures are held in Herrick Auditorium starting at 7 p.m.