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"Listening to Silence" Conference and Exhibit

Silence by Shusaku EndoIn September 2015, the English Department and Core Studies co-sponsored the “Listening to Silence” conference, a series of lectures along with an art exhibit interacting with Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. The novel, a fictional account inspired by true stories of the persecution of Christians in 16th century Japan, is this year’s core text and serves as a focus of the new First Year Seminar as part of the Christ at the Core general education program.

The conference began on September 27 with the “Listening to Silence” panel discussion. Easily over a hundred attendees, including many First Year Seminar students, gathered in Barrows Auditorium for a series of presentations on the religious, historical, and cultural contexts of Silence, given by Dr. Kevin M. Doak of Georgetown University, Dr. Hanmee Kim and Dr. David Lauber of Wheaton College, and moderated by Dr. Miho Nonaka, also from Wheaton.

“We are given so many angles to tackle Silence...” said Nonaka, after the three speakers had presented their thoughts on the novel. “I am astounded and excited by multiplicity of interpretation....such an event really excites and energizes us, but also humbles us.”

The conference continued on September 28 with a lecture “Silence and Beauty” by artist Makoto Fujimura, whose works were featured in the Silence exhibition at the Billy Graham Center Museum throughout the month of September. After listening to Fujimura in chapel Wednesday morning, students gathered in Barrows that evening, along with many Wheaton professors as well as members of the local community, to hear the celebrated artist speak on his unique “theology of making.”

“Beauty matters...[it] is enormously part of the gospel, part of how we become human,” said Fujimura, as he described the unique calling of Christians towards creativity and “making.”

“When Jesus invited us to consider the lilies, that means to me planting the lilies,” he explained.

Fujimura’s specialty is nihonga, a unique and ancient form of Japanese painting that involves grinding up precious minerals—such as gold or azurite—and mixing them with glue to create layers of paint atop paper, silk, or wood. A few of his works were included in the Silence exhibition, on display in the Billy Graham Center Museum from August 15th through September 30th.

The exhibit, along with the panel discussion and Fujimura’s lecture, gave Wheaton students and community members an opportunity to engage with Endo’s novel through a variety of experiences and conversations, extending learning far beyond the classroom into the gallery and the campus community.

“I have just heard so much that I know will be resounding in me for days to come,” said Lilia Smith, ’20, after attending one of the Silence events.

Dr. Tiffany Kriner, Associate Professor of English and a primary coordinator of the Silence events, further reflected on the impact of the exhibit and conference on the larger Wheaton community.

“In reading this novel we have been on a pilgrimage with Endo...[and] with Christ,” she said. “And conversation is the true sustenance of pilgrims.”