Benedictine Father Columba Stewart of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville will deliver the 2019 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities Oct. 7 at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The lecture is the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities, according to a news release July 18 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Father Stewart is a scholar of early religions and executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at St. John’s University. He will speak on “Cultural Heritage Present and Future: A Benedictine Monk’s Long View” 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,” NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede said in the release. “In doing so, he and his colleagues have helped preserve the records of the religion, art, literature, culture and knowledge of distant eras of human history so that we may celebrate and learn from those that came before us.”
Dubbed “the monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS,” by The Atlantic magazine, Father 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.
Father 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 — including Syria, Iraq and the Balkans — to safeguard centuries-old sacred documents as well as nonreligious texts that record vital aspects of history and culture.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a federal agency created in 1965, selects the Jefferson lecturer through a formal review process that includes nominations from the general public.