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Tracy Knight to Present Hallwas Lecture October 4

September 19, 2006

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MACOMB, IL - - Tracy Knight, an associate psychology professor at Western Illinois University, will discuss how wonder and mystery form a neglected bedrock of human life, and how the liberal arts directly invite and nurture those qualities when he presents the fourth annual College of Arts and Sciences John Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 in the University Union Grand Ballroom.

His presentation, “Nothing but the Mystery: Wonder, Meaning and the Liberal Arts,” will discuss the dramatic cultural shifts that have followed rapid globalization, astounding growth in technology and a shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based society.

“Rapid changes in culture over the past few decades have, to some extent, overwhelmed us.” Knight said. “The world is louder, and we’ve become heavier, lonelier, more passive, and have tried to deal with this cascade of changes in part through imposing a pragmatic business model on many of our activities.

“While this provides some temporary sense of order, it does so at the expense of our quieter, more human traits. I hope that the lecture will provide an oasis of sorts, an opportunity to re-appreciate aspects of life such as wonder, mystery, humility and compassion, things we cannot measure but nonetheless recognize and which are always present when we’re at our best,” he added.

“I am delighted that Tracy was chosen to deliver this year’s John Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture,” said Inessa Levi, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He touches the lives of so many people. Whether through his work as a clinical psychologist helping people in need, or through his teaching and curriculum helping students acquire skills to last a lifetime, Tracy’s approach is always the same: very human and caring.”

Knight, a native of nearby Carthage (IL) and a Western alumnus (B.S. 1976, M.S. 1978), joined the WIU faculty in 2001, after more than 20 years as a practicing clinical psychologist in west-central Illinois. He currently teaches graduate courses to both clinical and school psychology students and works in Western’s Psychology Clinic, where he serves community clients and supervises advanced graduate students’ clinical experience.

“Tracy is the perfect choice for the Hallwas lecture because his research, clinical practice and teaching incorporate many different perspectives, while remaining focused and useful,” said Virginia Diehl, psychology chair. “He is dedicated to his students, clients, and colleagues, and is always willing to take on a new challenge. He is a wonderful department citizen; and I am delighted that he chooses to work in the psychology department at Western.”

Knight’s research interests include rural mental health, psychological assessment and, most recently, the effects of the act of diagnosis on individuals.

“As healthcare has become increasingly business-oriented, as we’ve become more inundated with information, and as our tolerance for one another has been tested, there has been a corresponding explosion in the number of psychiatric diagnoses. This is not because science has discovered hundreds of new diseases. Rather, these diagnoses have been voted upon by committees, and exist primarily to organize the healthcare process,” Knight said.

“In the meantime, individuals’ lives can clearly be either helped or hindered by the application of a diagnosis. This is even more sobering when you consider that a vast majority of psychiatric diagnoses have never been demonstrated to be physical diseases. They’re constructions we use to simplify life,” he explained. “Diagnoses provide some benefits – individuals feel validated and their hope for improvement is increased. At the same time, individuals can become incarcerated by a diagnosis, believing it to be a major part of their identity or feeling that they cannot personally affect their own lives.”

“Tracey is a very talented speaker, who will draw upon his fascinating work in clinical psychology as well as his experience as a professor. We are fortunate to have him as the 2006 Liberal Arts Lecturer,” Hallwas said.

In addition to his career in psychology, Knight is a fiction author with two novels and more than 25 short stories published to date in the United States, England and Japan. His 2001 novel, “The Astonished Eye,” was nominated by the International Horror Guild in the category Best First Novel. Most recently, his short story “Moths in Damp Grass,” appeared in the anthology “Masques V,” edited by J. N. Williamson, which also included works by Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Knight also wrote a chapter for the upcoming Writer’s Digest book “On Writing Horror.”

“There is less difference between writing fiction and practicing psychology – in fact, between the arts and sciences – than is typically assumed,” Knight said. “Both rest on a foundation of imagination and mystery. Both are efforts toward shining a light on the good life.”

In September 2003, English Professor and Historian John Hallwas delivered the inaugural Liberal Arts Lecture on “The Liberal Arts, Civic Responsibility and Western’s Mission.” Political Science Professor and Chair Charles Helm presented the 2004 lecture, “Declining Civic Engagement: Democratic Theory and Liberal Arts to the Rescue?” The 2005 lecture, “Reading Between the (Front) Lines: Science and Stories,” was given by Karen B. Mann, professor of English and journalism.

The Liberal Arts Lecture is an outgrowth of the College of Arts and Sciences liberal arts discussion group formed in 2002 as a way to express commitment to a liberal arts education at Western and share approaches for maintaining a high quality educational program.

The College of Arts and Sciences announced the renaming of the lecture to the John Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture in September 2004 at Hallwas’s retirement reception, where he was honored for 34 years of service to Western Illinois as an English professor and archivist as well as a public scholar, regional historian and community activist.

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