Icons and Iconoclasm: In Religion, Politics and the Academy
Part of the Fall 2020 series: The Presidential Election and a Nation in Crisis: Polarization, Pandemic, Prejudice Tuesday, October 27, 2020 at 7:00pm (CT)
The Institute for Freedom and Community invites you to join us for a special conversation with Cuban exile, Yale professor, and Reformation historian Carlos Eire, whose fascinating life story offers special insight into the complexities of identity formation. At the age of 11, Carlos left Havana as part of the operation known as “Peter Pan,” (Operación Pedro Pan) in which 14,000 unaccompanied young children were brought to the United States for fear of the new government under Fidel Castro. Eire spent his early life moving from foster home to foster home, never to see his father again and only reuniting with his ill mother upon her own emigration from Cuba. A staunch critic of the Cuban regime, Eire went on to become one of the most astute historians of the Reformation, authoring a handful of books highly respected in the academy at large. He has also authored two powerful memoirs about his exile, the first of which–Waiting for Snow in Havana–won the National Book Award for non-fiction.
Our conversation with Eire will address the intersectional identity of his life as Cuban exile and Reformation scholar. On the one hand, Eire has sought to defend “icons” against the “iconoclasm” of the Castro regime (which destroyed Catholic images and statues in churches). And in a deeper sense, Eire has been critical of the radical Protestant iconoclasts of the 16th century. Yet on the other hand, Eire is something of a self-styled iconoclast himself, in both the field of Reformation Studies, but also in the academy at large. In addition to a central focus on what Eire sees as similarities between certain forms of Protestant Reformation Iconoclasm of the 16th century and the “iconoclasm” of the Castro regime and ideologies of the left, the event will also consider issues in wide-ranging fashion including: the place of religion in the academy today, Pope Francis on Cuba, Obama’s “Cuban Thaw” (deshielo cubano) and Trump’s more restrictive policies, the topic of censorship (all of Eire’s books are banned in Cuba), and Eire’s identity in the academy as Cuban exile and vigorous critic of totalitarian regimes everywhere, especially those that claim to follow Marxist principles.
T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University
Carlos Eire, who received his PhD from Yale in 1979, specializes in the social, intellectual, religious, and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Europe, with a focus on both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations; the history of popular piety; and the history of the supernatural, and the history of death. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1996, he taught at St. John’s University in Minnesota and the University of Virginia, and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for two years. He is the author of War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship From Erasmus to Calvin (1986); From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth Century Spain (1995); A Very Brief History of Eternity(2010); Reformations: The Early Modern World (2016); and The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila: A Biography (2019). And he is co-author of Jews, Christians, Muslims: An Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (1997). He has also ventured into the twentieth century and the Cuban Revolution in the memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003), which won the National Book Award in Nonfiction in the United States and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. His second memoir, Learning to Die in Miami (2010), explores the exile experience. A past president of the Society for Reformation Research, he is currently researching attitudes toward miracles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His recent book Reformationswon the R.R.Hawkins Prize for Best Book of the Year from the American Publishers Association, as well as the award for Best Book in the Humanities. It was also awarded the Jaroslav Pelikan Prize by Yale University Press. All of his books are banned in Cuba, where he has been proclaimed an enemy of the state – a distinction he regards as the highest of all honors.