The Towns Family Lectureship in Practical Ethics

The Towns Family Lectureship in Practical Ethics was established at Allegheny College with gifts from Thelma and John W. Towns Jr. in 1992, in honor of his mother, Helen Davis Towns, class of 1920. John Towns is an alumnus of the college, class of 1950. The lectureship provides a forum for encouraging informed ethical decision-making among Allegheny students by bringing to the Allegheny campus notable experts on moral choice within the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.

2015: John Esposito

University Professor & Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

“Building Bridges: Protecting Pluralism, Ending Islamophobia”
September 29, 2015

University Professor as well as Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, John L. Esposito is Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) and the Project Director of The Bridge Initiative. Housed in the ACMCU, The Bridge Initiative is a multi-year research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square. Their goal is to to highlight the problem of Islamophobia, challenge the discourses that contribute to it, and offer an alternative narrative based on research accessible to public in order to build strong pluralistic societies that ensure human dignity and civil liberties. For more information on John, see

Workshop offered: “The Future of Islam and Democracy after the Arab Spring”

2014: Guest Scholar James Lawson

“Non-violent Resistance and the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement”
March 28-29, 2014

 2011 (Fall): Guest Scholar Leah Wolfson

Senior Program Officer in the Center for Advanced Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“A Song for a Finale: The Encounter Between Music and Narrative in Holocaust Survivor Testimonies.”
December 1-2, 2011

2011(Spring): Virginia Aksan

Professor of History at McMaster University

“Muslims and Minorities in the Pre-Modern Middle East: The Ottoman Difference”

A specialist in 18th and early 19th-century Ottoman history, Aksan teaches courses in Islamic, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history and regularly contributes to the graduate program in globalization at McMaster. She is also an associate member of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. She has been secretary and president of the Turkish Studies Association of North America and president and board member of the Middle East Studies Association of North America.
Aksan graduated from Allegheny College in 1968. Her publications include a study of an influential Ottoman reformer, “An Ottoman Statesman in War and Peace: Ahmed Resmi Efendi, 1700-1783,” as well as “Ottomans and Europeans: Contacts and Conflicts” and “Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged.”

2009: Randall Balmer

Professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University

“So Help Me God: Faith and the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush”

Balmer is the author of 11 books. His most recent, “God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush,” was the subject of an interview Balmer gave last month on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

2008: Gary Dorrien

Professor of Religion at Columbia University and the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary,

“Militaristic Illusions: The Iraq Debacle and the Crisis of American Empire.”

Dorrien is the author of 12 books and approximately 150 articles that range across the fields of ethics, social theory, theology, philosophy, politics, and history. They include three books on economic democracy and social ethics, two widely acclaimed books on political neoconservatism and a trilogy titled “The Making of American Liberal Theology.”  The three books in the series are “Imagining Progressive Religion (I),” “Idealism and Realism in Modernity, 1900-2003 (II)” and “Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity, 1950-2003 (III).”Dorrien has a long record of involvement in social justice, human rights, environmental and anti-war organizations. His recent book, “Imperial Designs,” grew out of his extensive lecturing against the U.S.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.

2007: Omid Safi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (now at Duke University)

2006: Amy Hollywood, Harvard University

2005: Reuven Firestone, Hebrew Union College

2004: Michael Sells, University of Chicago