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Seattle University


Leaning to the Mystical

Written by Mike Thee
February 25, 2013

More than 40 locally, nationally and internationally renowned authors will descend on Seattle University's campus for the School of Theology and Ministry's Search for Meaning Book Festival on March 9. Now in its fifth year, the festival draws a diverse, eclectic crowd that is unified by a desire to make sense of this crazy mystery called life. 

The festival's gravitational pull has only intensified with time, with attendance doubling every year. Last year's gathering drew more than 2,500. Even with this meteoric growth, the festival remains free to attendees, a gift to the general public made possible by the school and sponsors, including Laura Ellen and Robert Muglia and Elliott Bay Bookstore. 

Many of the attendees come for the headliners. This year, seats in the commodious Campion Ballroom were claimed almost as quickly as they were made available for the keynote speakers, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, who will be interviewed by the award-winning author Sherman Alexie-himself a past festival keynoter-and internationally renowned writer and scholar Reza Aslan. To accommodate the seemingly insatiable demand, two overflow sites were made available for each keynote in Pigott Auditorium and Sullivan Hall. (Both of the added venues are already booked for Chabon; at this writing, all overflow seats for Aslan are spoken for in Pigott, with a limited number available in Sullivan.) 

The roster of featured authors includes a number of SU's own. Faculty members Gloria Burgess, Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Cinda Johnson, Patrick Kelly, S.J., Rev. Michael Kinnamon and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, are participating as well as staff members Colette Casavant, Rabbi Anson Laytner and Joelle Pretty. 

Beyond the opportunity to hear from and interact with top-caliber authors, the festival is something of a sacred space for exploring the most fundamental issues of humanity both in solitude, as if on a retreat, and in the company of other thinkers and seekers. 

And while attendees come from all walks of life and backgrounds, "Everyone is leaning toward the mystical and asking the same questions," says Dean Mark Markuly of the School of Theology and Ministry. "They're all trying to renegotiate what it means to be a human being and a good person." 

Markuly frequently encourages attendees to not only listen to the speakers they specifically came to hear but also to challenge themselves and seek out speakers whose "ideas would boil your blood." 

To Markuly, the book festival is thoroughly Ignatian. "The earliest Jesuits did this sort of thing," he says. "It's rooted in their identity." 

Likewise, the gathering has very quickly become an integral part of the school and Seattle University's DNA, very much in line with one of the institution's most core strengths-promoting interreligious dialogue.