Lecture series explores the soul of Western Civilization

Betsy Graca

A new lecture series discussing the musical talents of Johann Sebastian Bach and Kurt Cobain sought to dive beneath the surface of popular music to the underlying soul of Western Civilization – and its questionable future.

Tuesday night marked the first lecture in a 10-part series, “Must the sun set on the West? An Indian Explores the Soul of Western Civilization,” taking place at the University.

International lecturer Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi, born and raised in India, is leading each Tuesday night lecture sponsored by the MacLaurin Institute and the Heart of the Matter Lecture series. These lectures will be held at 7 p.m. every Tuesday until Nov. 20 in Moos Tower.

The first lecture, “Following the Rolling Stone: From Bach to Cobain,” dealt with the role of music in the development of Western Civilization, specifically music’s role in religion.

Mangalwadi said he believed that with pop stars like Britney Spears influencing young Americans, the future of Western Civilization is in question.

Mangalwadi told the story of Cobain’s suicide and the meaning behind both his band name, Nirvana: “to get rid of that illusion that you exist as a soul,” and his bestselling album, Nevermind: “nothing is really good and true and beautiful.”

Cobain believed life didn’t contain any significance and, because his way of ending his suffering was to end life, he committed suicide, Mangalwadi said.

In the mid 1980s, suicide was the second leading cause of death for adolescents, suggesting America’s youth had become more violent than ever, he said.

“Cobain understood his generation, and he is the legitimate icon of his generation,” he said. “Cobain, even by killing himself, demonstrates he lived what he believed Ö (for this) he remains popular.”

Mangalwadi discussed what made the West a uniquely musical and optimistic civilization.

“Americans take music for granted,” he said, prior to listing the many nations that have banned music, particularly female artists and music on television.

Mangalwadi went on to speak of St. Augustine and Martin Luther’s influence on the development of music in religion in the West.

He said that because Bach grew up in the environment of Luther and the church, he was able to recover from his own sufferings – his parents died when he was 9 years old.

Bach had faith that there was meaning to life and that idea enabled him to celebrate his salvation, he said.

“It was this biblical worldview that life is hope, there is something to sing about,” he said.

However, the lecture didn’t go without its opposition.

Pete Lackey, a minister with the MacLaurin Institute, said that there were several post-lecture disagreements with Mangalwadi’s words. Lackey said such debates are not unwelcome as Mangalwadi’s series of lectures is an argument itself.

As the lectures continue, the topics are increasingly controversial, Lackey said – particularly Tuesday, Oct. 23, when Mangalwadi’s lecture will be: “Liberating Iraq or Mission Impossible?”

Although the MacLaurin Institute is a center for Christian study serving the University, Lackey said people of all religious beliefs and backgrounds are invited to the lectures.

Audience member Connor Wood said he is open to all religions and doesn’t affiliate himself with any particular faith. Wood said he’s interested in the debates between religion and science and that’s what attracted him to the lecture series.

Robert Osburn, executive director of the MacLaurin Institute, said he expects attendance to increase dramatically throughout the weeks.

“I suggest that if we fail to listen to the content of and the urgency behind Dr. Mangalwadi’s message, we do so at our own risk,” he said.