Chris Hedges, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent with the New York Times and a social activist, will speak at McDaniel College for the third-annual Ira G. Zepp Memorial Lecture on Nov. 12.
The title of the lecture will be "The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies," according to McDaniel professor of political science Christianna Leahy, who organized the event, and will be followed by a question and answer period.
Hedges is an outspoken critic of economic injustice - he was once arrested in front of Goldman Sachs as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement - as well as religious intolerance, and Leahy said it was these qualities in Hedges that made her think he would be a good match to memorialize Zepp, a former McDaniel professor of religious studies who passed away in 2009.
"I wanted Hedges more than anyone to do this," Leahy said. "Ira was a fan of Hedges when he was still alive and to me, Hedges just epitomizes what Ira stood for ... They are kindred spirits and we thought Hedges would see it that way and indeed he did."
In addition to being a professor, Zepp was an ordained minister who advocated for nonviolence and civil rights - he marched in Selma, Ala., with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 - according to Leahy, and the memorial lecture series was founded with the intent of bringing speakers to campus who would echo and amplify Zepp's work.
That work often included advocating for radical and unpopular ideas for the times, especially in the Westminster community, according to Joan Develin Coley, former president of McDaniel College, in an obituary she wrote after Zepp's passing.
"Ira always wrote from his heart, no matter how controversial his point of view. In a 1965 column for the campus newspaper, he argued for the acceptance of gays," Coley wrote. "The [Zepp] family received hate mail and dirty looks from neighbors who didn't like the sight of black guests at their house."
Although things have changed in Carroll County since 1965, Hedges may reprise Zepp's role as a relatively radical intellectual in the context of the local community. The author of books such as "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," Hedges has openly expressed radical leftist politics.
Cody Knipfer, a McDaniel sophomore majoring in political science, said that he is looking forward to Hedges' talk both as a way of memorializing Zepp and as a chance for an interesting political dialogue.
"The Westminster community is undoubtedly conservative, and this contrasts heavily with a man who calls himself a socialist," Knipfer said. "However, I hope - and would like to think - that that would not preclude the possibility of open, honest and constructive dialogues and a genuine interest from the public."
Martin Scire, another McDaniel College sophomore and union activist with the Industrial Workers of the World, said that while he believes Hedges' liberal politics will be controversial in a town like Westminster, he suspects there might actually be some unexpected agreement with Hedges' views and those of the more conservative members of the community.
"Oftentimes, I notice that figures that would be considered far left in American culture tend to reverberate with right-wing people more than with mildly liberal or democratic people," Scire said. "Hedges might stand up and say, 'Obamacare is the worst thing on earth,' or something like that, and a lot of people in Westminster may agree with that, for different reasons, but at face value they are agreeing on this."